Coordinates: 64o 46’S 063o 06’W
Air Temperature: 1 °C, 33.6 °F
Sea Temperature: 2 °C, 35.4 °F
Pressure: 1010 hPa
Wind: 27.5 km/h
Happy New Year!
What a way to spend the day! Morning came way too early until I looked outside and saw Cuverville Island. Within an hour I was standing among the industrious Gentoo penguins as they made their way up steep snow-covered hills to their rookeries. The paths they walked were so well trodden that they had actually carved trenches in the snow. These penguin “highways” were so deep that often a penguin would be completely out of sight. There is something about penguins that makes me laugh. Seeing them neck-deep in their routes where all I could see were their little heads moving through the snow, started me giggling.
Neko Harbor was next. Sailing through a sculpture garden of icebergs, the Prince Albert II arrived at small exposed rock area surrounded by glaciers. I was happy to see so many familiar faces follow me up the snowy slope for a spectacular view of a tidewater glacier and our floating home, the Prince Albert II. Tiny Zodiacs zipped around the bay below like water bugs in a pond. The walk up the hill got us all breathing hard but the downhill slide set my heart pounding. The slope drops off suddenly and the snow gives no hint to the depth of the slide. With my feet in the air and my fast waterproof pants on, I made record time sliding down the hill. Then, to top off the afternoon, I jumped in a Zodiac to tour the ice sculptures up close. One small iceberg was the landing site for Southern Fulmar. They opened their mouths as we approached. It wasn’t obvious what they meant by that. Then they fed from the surface of the water occasionally clicking bills with one another and calling quietly. All too soon it was time to return to the ship.
One new friend said to me that all she needed now was a picture of a whale. Coming right up, we saw two Humpback whales making shallow dives around the icebergs. Everyone donned their warm clothes again and headed to the outer decks. Because the water looks green above the white of their flippers, I could see the whales’ pectoral flippers before they surfaced. They took a deep dive showing their flukes. All I could hear was the clicking of cameras. I had a suspicion that they would surface on the starboard side of the ship even though we had just seen them on the port side. I shared this idea with two other folks who decided to believe me. We were the only people looking over the railing on the port side when the Humpback whales surfaced right below us. It startled me to suddenly have them so close.
The days are long in Antarctica. We sailed through Paradise Bay slowing down by the Chilean Air Force Base – Gonzales Videla. Our Captain has a fondness for the rare leucistic Gentoo penguin. A leucistic penguin looks “bleached” and many people mistake it for albino, but it does have melanin and isn’t technically albino. Regardless of the details, Captain Stahlberg spotted the rare bird on the shore in Paradise Harbor. Again the clicking of cameras replaced conversation.
It was time for dinner. I finished quickly to use time to write this report. In the middle of my typing, an announcement came over the PA system that there was a pod of Orca ahead of our ship. Orca are commonly known as “killer whales”. Once again, I dove for my binoculars and was delighted to see a group of at least 8 Orca surfacing in the whitecaps. What a beginning to 2011!