Day 16 |
Oct 28, 2010

Isla Pan De Azucar

By Astrid Guenther-Weigl, Biologist

Coordinates: 26º09’13”S, 70º39’41”W
Weather: Overcast, 14 degrees Celsius

Cloudy and grey sky, 14 degrees Celsius and quite a swell. I did not expect the Zodiac tour this morning to be very comfortable, but it turned out to be completely different than I had anticipated.

At 9.30, eight Zodiacs headed for Isla Pan De Azucar. I was in a Zodiac with Jarda and two guests. At first glance there was not much wildlife to be seen. A few scattered Humboldt Penguins, Kelp Gulls and some Turkey Vultures soaring overhead.

Then we had a closer look. There were more penguins, almost invisible, as they were so well camouflaged on the guano-covered stones. We saw Blackish Oystercatchers foraging for food in the kelp-covered rocks and red sea urchins, strange-looking sunburst sea stars and barnacles attached to the boulders and a group of three sea lions resting high above us.

All of a sudden there was a sea lion and a penguin directly before us splashing in the water. And what now followed was the most spectacular sighting we had had on this voyage, in my opinion.

The sea lion emerged with a young penguin in his mouth. The penguin tried to escape, managed to do some jumps out of the water, was caught again, both submerged, went out again and then the same actions repeated again.

Accompanied by the cheering of the guests to “go, go, go, quicker, quicker” the little penguin fought for his life. But the sea lion succeeded. The penguin was thrown a few times into the air, torn into pieces and most of it swallowed. After 5 minutes we saw only bits of the penguin drifting in the crystal clear water.

And this was not the only one. Another penguin had the same fate and a part of it was brought to a very thin sea lion pup resting on the rocks, obviously waiting for food. It jumped directly into the water and got his breakfast.

Only minutes later Robin Aiello came over the radio. “MARINE OTTER, MARINE OTTER, here is a Marine Otter.” This was something we had only hoped to see rather than expected to see. They are found only along the coast of South America from Peru to southern Chile (through the Humboldt Current). These small marine mammals may only number in the hundreds with an upper estimate of 1,000.

And we could see one! On the shoreline was a Marine Otter chewing away his fresh catch of a crab. For all of us this was our first view ever of this reclusive species. We followed the otter for a while along the shore, after he had his breakfast.

And being still very excited about these spectacular sightings, there was another surprise waiting for us: the “Hotel Zodiac” serving champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. Also the sun appeared. What a day!

Two hours later we headed back to the Prince Albert II. Our morning had been a great success. It was time to turn our thoughts to lunch and the afternoon lectures.
As we sailed south, I gave my talk on South American mammals entitled “From Spider Monkeys to Anteaters and Sloths. The Unique Mammals of South America”. 
With our voyage quickly coming to an end, we gathered once again in The Theatre for our final destination briefing, which was followed by a presentation by Robin West on the history and renovation of the Prince Albert II.
Today was definitely what I had been waiting for after the many bus tours of the last days. Time in the Zodiacs, close encounters with wildlife and a mix of lectures separated by fine dinning and good company. A day of true expedition cruising onboard the Prince Albert II!