December 29, 2012 – Bransfield Strait, Gourdin Island
Posted on December 30th, 2012
Temperature: 35° F
Wind speed: 15 knots
Cloud cover: 90%
Late last night, Captain Etienne Garcia was called up to the bridge by the officers on watch. Significant amounts of sea ice were situated between ‘Le Boreal’ and her destination, the Antarctica Sound. Even though the most recent ice chart had shown that the area was clear, wind and ocean currents can often turn everything upside down, and so they had in this instance. So the Captain charted a course along the north side of the South Shetland Islands, with a plan to cut through the islands at Nelson Strait and head southeast from there to Antarctic Sound.
By the time we all awoke, the stunning and harsh landscape of King George Island lay just off the port side of the ship. Many of us came up to the bridge to watch the passage between the islands, where jagged black peaks rose above glaciers that tumbled right down to the waterline. We also scanned for whale spouts and were justly rewarded for our efforts, as several humpback and fin whales were observed feeding in the area.
During the late morning, naturalist Rich Pagen gathered us in the Theater for his lecture, “Marine Mammals, Local and Global: A Look at Conservation Issues and Solutions.” Rich explained some of the challenges that marine mammals face in the modern world, including ship traffic, underwater noise, interactions with fisheries and competition with humans for food resources. He then went on to highlight some of the advances that have been made to deal with these challenges. It was a very informative talk, which gave us hope that the status of many marine mammals will continue to improve into the future.
Over lunch, we kept one eye out the window as ‘Le Boreal’ crossed the Bransfield Strait en route to Antarctic Sound. We then gathered for a recap in the Theater, during which Geologist Henry Pollack read a passage by Frank Worsley about ship debris on South Georgia beaches one hundred years ago. Historian Bob Burton told the unlikely story of the 1901-04 Swedish Antarctic Expedition, led by Otto Nordenskjøld.
Shortly after, we arrived at Gourdin Island, near the northwest tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. There, we boarded Zodiacs for a tour of the spectacular ice, which included last winter’s sea ice, icebergs calved off the nearby glaciers, and incredible tabular icebergs that had broken off of the enormous ice shelves of the Weddell Sea and drifted here through Antarctic Sound.
The ever-changing lighting was incredible, and we meandered through the constantly changing maze of ice in search of seals and penguins. Numerous Adélie penguins were loafing on ice floes, or porpoising through the calm waters, often visible underwater as they swam under the zodiac.
After a final few minutes floating quietly in the tumble of ice, we made our way back to the ship and warmed up over a hot cup of tea. Before dinner, Captain Etienne Garcia announced that he would be taking the ship all the way around a huge flat-topped tabular iceberg. So we grabbed our cameras and headed out on deck for the show. The blues of the iceberg had to be seen to be believed, with icicles many feet long hanging off the steep sides.
Under fading light, we took one last walk on deck to soak up this furthest north reach of the Antarctic continent itself. Icebergs of all shapes contrasted with the slate grey sky and sea, as ‘Le Boreal’ headed out into the Bransfield Strait en route to the South Shetland Islands.
–Rich Pagen, Naturalist