Day 11 |
Nov 13, 2008

Elephant Island

By Chris Harbard

Noon position: 61°17’S, 55° 13’W

Weather: Bright sunshine with some cloud and occasional light snow flurries.

At 8am, we could see Cornwallis Island off the port side as we arrived at Elephant Island. Often shrouded in cloud and fog, today the snow clad slopes and glaciers shone in the sunshine and an escort of Cape Petrels guided us along.

The ship anchored just off Point Lookout and a scout boat went out to look at the conditions. Landing proved impossible and so a Zodiac cruise was arranged instead. With gusting winds and a variable swell, nobody stayed dry but the mile-long journey to the Point seemed to take no time.

No one knows exactly who gave Elephant Island its name, but it first appeared on an 1822 map of the British sealer, Captain George Powell, and is probably linked to the elephant seals there. As we neared the rocky shore, we saw Cape Petrels wheeling along the slopes and fluttering by ledges, which would be nest sites for many. A slope next to the water contained a colony of penguins and these proved to be our first Macaronis. With their golden ‘toupees’, they look extremely comical.

Sitting on a rock nearby was another penguin with a white face and a black line around its throat – a Chinstrap. We saw more and more of them and soon heard the noise they make coming from a large colony that covered one slope. Another black-and-white bird perched on a rock was not a penguin this time, but was an Antarctic Shag, our first!

Every penguin colony had its attending Snowy Sheathbills, which act as refuse collectors by eating the most unthinkable items left by the penguins. They breed in rock crevices near to the penguins. Antarctic Skuas were also seen patrolling the colonies, but these were searching for penguins’ eggs to steal.

At Point Lookout itself there were several small Southern Elephant Seals hauled out on a beach, next to a colony of Gentoo Penguins. In the background, a glacier, much receded from the sea, had revealed rocky terrain that had been colonised by penguins. This area had probably been under ice in Shackleton’s time.

All were back at the ship by 2pm and we headed off towards our destination for tomorrow – Antarctic Sound. In the afternoon, our Head Sommelier, Vanja, held a Martini Seminar in the Panorama Lounge – a terrific tasting with a view!

Several distant whales, probably Fin Whales, were sighted in late afternoon. The recap and briefing looked at the extraordinary phenomenon of ‘singing’ icebergs, discovered only recently, and Robin advised us to get up at 3am to see sunrise with icebergs.