Day 8 |
Jan 25, 2010

Petermann Island, Antarctica

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, and Cartographer

Coordinates: 57° 51' S, 063° 56’ W

Weather: Overcast turning to partly sunny in late morning

Air Temperature: + 3o C ( 36o F )

Sea Temperature: + 2o C ( 34o F )

Pressure: 987 Hpa

Wind: 10 Km / hour

Last night was very peaceful! The Captain had selected a nice, calm anchorage safely tucked away from the ice for our overnight stay.

Early in the morning while most everyone was still asleep, our sturdy ship quietly picked up her anchor and we traveled slightly north to reach our planned landing site at Petermann Island, just as scheduled. The Zodiac landing was quite easily made in a relatively small bay that had been utilized by the French Charcot expedition in 1909.

I helped to mark out our discovery trails up the beach to the right towards the primary penguin nesting areas before returning to assist the guests coming ashore. Petermann is a great island for birding as we have large numbers of two different species of penguin, the Gentoo and Adelie. In addition, there are also a great many brown skuas that prey on small penguin chicks as well as shag / cormorants that rely primarily on fish.

Across the channel I could see the immense mountains of the Antarctic Continent with glaciers spilling down into the water. In addition to being surrounded by the great natural beauty and bird life, Petermann also has 4 areas of historical interest. I was able to provide each landing group with a short review of Charcot’s winter over site for his ship as well as an Antarctic Treaty Historic Site Monument (HSM) that has been erected in his honor, one of only 82 HSMs in the whole continent. Previously we had had the good fortune to visit 3 other HSM sites during our voyage.

We created another hiking path towards an Argentine refuge hut that had been established 50 years ago for possible shelter. In the same rocky area there is also a lovely memorial to 3 British Scientists killed in 1982 in the waters nearby the Island and these 2 locations rounded out the historic options on Petermann. However one of the most interesting links to the past was the opportunity to stand at the exact same location as seen in a Charcot scientific expedition photograph taken just over one hundred years ago and displayed during our recap last evening.

Of course the penguins are perhaps the biggest draw; walking nearby with great purpose between the sea and their nesting sites. At the last moment the Expedition Leader and I discussed the opportunity to add another option not previously offered. After reviewing the possible path for safety, I led the initial group of explorers up a relatively gentle but snowy path up over the middle of the island. This slight bit of work was rewarded with an absolutely stunning view of an iceberg-choked ocean, including brilliant whites and deep blues of underwater ice.

I asked for and immediately received the enthusiastic cooperation of everyone to refrain for just a short while from taking pictures or video, just to stand quietly without conversation such that we can experience the true nature of Antarctica. It is a land of awesome beauty and a symphony of beautiful sounds such as water lapping against the icebergs, the penguins crying out to each other and the wind whistling around the mountains. These quiet moments are some of my most favorite opportunities in this land of wonder.

Just after our quiet moment from the high overlook position, one guest spotted first one, then multiple humpback whales operating just offshore. We can see them breathing and swimming quite slowly along the surface.

All too soon, we had to carefully make our way down the snow and ice, observing a penguin eggshell along the way. I also had the chance to see and discuss an interesting greenish mineral that ran in layers between some of the granite boulders around the island.

Next it was a very short ride back to the ship for another outstanding lunch as the ship proceeded to our afternoon destination at Vernadsky Research Station, which is located on Galindez Island, Argentine Islands, which is also our ‘furthest South’ that we will achieve in this voyage.

During the most recent past voyage I had assisted the shore group and this time I supported a Zodiac tour and transportation. This type of teamwork, sharing the work and the spirit of cooperation is one of the outstanding features that I personally enjoy about the Silversea Expedition Team. In addition, it is also enormously fun to learn more about ornithology, geology and zoology from my talented friends. We all try to be quite excellent in all areas as General Naturalists with each of us having a particular area of specialty.

It is a somewhat rare opportunity to visit an operating research station. As always the Ukrainian team made us feel quite welcome. They concentrate on atmospheric studies and ozone hole measurements at this facility and have continuous records dating back many decades from the time when the facility had been operated by the British.

One of our first challenges was a Crabeater Seal that initially hauled out of the water just at our landing site but fortunately decided to move on to find a better place to take an afternoon nap.

The Argentine Islands are somewhat moon-like. Thus a Zodiac cruise is always interesting and what we find on each tour is always different. Today we were able to discover a series of huge icebergs, most shaped by wind and waves into fantastic pieces of sculpture with sides gleaming in the light a bit like diamonds.

However, we also found a number of other crabeater seals basking in then sun on a nearby ice floe. While maneuvering for even more gorgeous photographic images, a large piece of the ice broke off with a crash, giving us quite a lesson of how dynamic the ice environment can be.

Part way through, a very VERY rare sun halo displayed itself around the sun. It is caused by high ice crystal clouds called cirro stratus that break up the sun’s light into a circular rainbow of color that surrounds the sun. It is as spectacular as it is rare and it was a great deal of fun discussing the phenomena and answering questions about its occurrence.

On the way back to the ship, a mother and calf humpback whale was spotted. This set off a wonderful encounter that lasted more than one hour. This gave us enough time for the Expedition Team and ship’s Captain to reconfigure our schedule to make maximum opportunity to observe these magnificent and beautiful creatures from relatively close by. They continued to surface, blow and feed while slowly traveling away from the ship until we reached a point where all Zodiacs had to reluctantly turn for the Prince Albert II with some sadness somewhat similar to children who must be called home after a wonderful day of awe and play.

As I write this late in the day, the long summer sun is bathing the high mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula in beautiful sunlight as I head off for a superb Venetian Society Dinner where I am sure we will both recount the magic sights that we have had the privilege to see today while dreaming out the new opportunities to explore even more of this wonderfully remote continent on the morrow.

PS:I’m not sure if the daily log has ever had a Post Script (PS) but despite this fabulous day up through the afternoon, the adventure was not yet over. During dinner we had a series of humpback whales rise right beside the ship and just outside of the dining room window, something that we humorously call ‘dinner whales’. The Captain expertly maneuvered the ship such that everyone had a long-term, excellent encounter with multiple displays of ‘spouts’ and fluke diving.

Next we reached the southern end of the Lemaire Channel just before sunset. The Lemaire is accurately described as one of the most beautiful ship passages in the world. However, tonight we were able to experience a transit that was even more wonderful than usual with the sun casting a golden glow across the snow-capped peaks that line both sides of the Channel. It was absolutely spectacular and visually stunning. Just at sunset it looked as if the entire sea route was on fire with a blaze of orange light, then capped with a bright green flash of the sun just as it set below the horizon. I felt truly blessed by being able to experience a day where words are inadequate to properly convey the sights that we have had the privilege to see.