Day 5 |
Jan 07, 2012

Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

By Aitcho & Half Moon Islands, South Shetlands

Co-ordinates: S 62º24’30”, W 059º44’31”
Weather: Partly cloudy and breezy
Air Temperature: 1ºC
Wind: 15 - 25 knots

The South Shetland Islands are a group of Antarctic Islands, lying about 120 km (75 mi) north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Today we had a chance to explore two of them. We visited Barrientos, in the Aitcho group of islands in the morning and Half Moon Island in the afternoon.

By 07:30 the Silver Explorer was anchored in the channel between the islands of Robert and Greenwich, the weather was good and the South Shetlands were showing their best face. We started to bring our guests ashore at 8 am so they could see the island with its chinstrap penguin colony, some gentoo penguins and the ever-present skuas and snowy sheathbills. For most of our guests, this was their first close encounter with penguins and one could feel their excitement.

This was the first landing for this trip, and it was a successful one indeed. Ashore, the antics of the chinstraps and the gentoos were delightful, and a lot of fun to watch. For a short while, a leopard seal showed up at the landing site and started to curiously swim around a Zodiac that was anchored just offshore; it even came close to shore and checked us out… There were also a couple of Southern Elephant seals on the beach next to the landing site.

By 11 a.m. we were all back on board and the Silver Explorer was sailing for Half Moon Island. While we were all enjoying a delicious lunch, the Silver Explorer (under the skillful command of Captain Alexander Golubev) sailed southwest along the South Shetlands. We came down the south side of Greenwich Island and into Half Moon Bay, an indentation on the north coast of Livingston Island where Half Moon Island, our destination for the afternoon, is located.

The day was spectacular, with bright sun shining on the 3,000 – 4,000+ feet-high glacier-covered peaks of nearby Livingston Island. Half Moon is home to a healthy colony of chinstrap penguins, and that amongst many other things is what we came here for.

Half Moon Island was known by sealers as early as 1821. It is also the site of the Argentine Camara Station, and, at one point, was the locus for a joint tourism impact study run by U.K., Argentine, and Chilean interests. Station personnel and biologists from the Argentine Antarctic Institute continue to monitor the island’s penguin and flying bird populations, although the station has not opened yet this summer.

From the regular landing beach on the NE shore, marked by a rotting old dory, our guests climbed toward a navigation tower on the ridge above in order to reach the pathway leading to the major chinstrap colonies on the eastern extremity of the island, where Will Wagstaff, one of our ornithologists, was stationed doing interpretation. Along the way our guests had a chance to see a Weddell seal on the beach, nesting Kelp gulls, Antarctic Terns, Snowy Sheathbills, Wilson’s Storm petrels, etc. On top of this we had the scenery, which was truly magnificent.

The wind had picked up and the ride back was a bit choppy, but not too bad. There was a beautiful iceberg near the ship, and when lit, the blues and whites shone brightly. The Zodiacs were swinging by on their way back to the ship so everyone could have a close look at this iceberg before coming back on board. I saw lots of happy faces as our guests walked up the gangway.

Before dinner the Expedition Team hosted a Recap & Briefing, where our Expedition Leader Robin West explained the plans for tomorrow and some of the lecturers came up on stage to share a bit of their knowledge. Our resident photographer Richard Sidey also delighted us with a preview of the work he has been putting together on this trip.

A great first day.