January 14, 2013 – At Sea, Penguin Island
Posted on January 15th, 2013
Temperature: 35° F
Wind speed: 15 knots
Cloud cover: 100% in the morning, 30% in the afternoon
We awoke to a special visitor this morning playing in the winds on the starboard side of the ship: an Antarctic petrel! This species is one of only three bird species that nests exclusively on the Antarctic continent itself (the other two being the South polar skua and the emperor penguin). The bird stayed with us for several hours, and many of us spent time out on one of the side decks photographing this true Antarctic specialty.
After breakfast, we joined marine biologist Charley Wheatley for his talk, “The Future of the Oceans?” Charley spoke about such issues as overfishing, highlighting the need for us to better manage what was once thought of as an endless resource. It was a very important subject to discuss, and Charley gave us many ideas of ways we can contribute towards conserving the world’s oceans.
Later, we headed back to the Theater to join historian Bob Burton for a talk entitled “The Antarctic Treaty.” Bob explained that the treaty holds all territorial claims in abeyance, requires all decisions regarding Antarctica’s future to be made by consensus, and dictates that Antarctica should remain a place used for peaceful purposes only. We left the Theater with pride that humankind had come up with such an agreement, and a hope that the treaty and the ideals behind it will be carried forward well into the future.
We then met for a recap with the Expedition Team during which geologist Kitty Coley gave a preview of the impressive volcanic geology we would find ashore this afternoon. Naturalist Rich Pagen gave some background on the Antarctic’s “dive-bombing” skuas and terns.
During lunch, Captain Etienne Garcia announced that we were passing right along the edge of the sea ice. We quickly went outside to see this ice barrier gleaming white in the brilliant sunshine. A humpback whale briefly surfaced right along the ice edge, as we alternated between eating spaghetti and running out on the pool deck to photograph the scenery.
Soon, ‘Le Boreal’ arrived at Penguin Island, a small one-mile-long island just off the south coast of King George Island in the South Shetlands. From the landing, some of us hiked up to the top of the main volcanic caldera of the island, from which we were rewarded with views into the crater itself, as well as across to King George Island in the distance. Some of us hiked even further up to Deacon Point, the highest point on the crater rim with an elevation of about 500 feet.
We also meandered along the shoreline of the island past snoozing Weddell seals and elephant seals to a chinstrap penguin colony. In the water, we spied a couple of leopard seals waiting for the penguins. Awesome creatures, leopard seals reach 12 feet in length and spend most of their time feeding on krill in the productive Antarctic waters. They also specialize in hunting penguins, and we were witness to this wild spectacle today.
Back on board, we gathered for a drink in the Grand Salon to share our experiences from the day. Following dinner, we went off to bed with the curtains open, so we could glance out during the early morning hours to see what the sunrise looked like in the spectacular Gerlache Strait, our destination for tomorrow morning.
– Rich Pagen, Naturalist