Day 3 |
Dec 02, 2008

Day At Sea And South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

By Rob Suisted

Position: 62° 24.1’ S and 059° 44.1’ W

Aticho – Barrientos Island, overcast with moderate winds

After breakfast, we joined Dr Gennadi Milinevsky for a lecture on Antarctic Science, focusing in particular on climate changes taking place and important monitoring of these changes. Dr Gennadi has spent much time in Antarctica as base leader at the Ukranian Faraday-Vernadsky Station and presented an interesting talk.

Later in the morning, Juan Carlos Restrepo, one of our onboard geologists, gave us a thorough lecture on the processes at work in the earth below us, processes that have shaped the areas we will be visiting.

After lunch, the mandatory IAATO briefing was run, teaching guests about the fragile ecosystem we will be visiting, and how we should behave to best look after it and minimize our impacts.

The seas had been typical of the Drake Passage for the last two days, maybe averaging 5-metre swells. The chance to get off for a short stop ashore in the South Shetlands was keenly greeted by most as we decided to pull into the lee of this dramatic island landscape.

Aticho – Barrientos Island is a small, beautiful island surrounded by dramatically sharp rock spires and steeples, a product of its volcanic heritage.Most of our 100 guests went ashore for their first introduction to Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins.

We enjoyed an easy first Zodiac boat landing and a careful walk around amongst the small breeding colonies. Being early in the season, many birds sat on nests and we saw courtship and mating behaviours. Of great interest to most people, especially the birders amongst us, was the lone King penguin standing forlornly amongst the Gentoo penguins. Approximately 700 kilometres from home, the King penguin was trying hard to introduce him or herself to the locals. We watched as a Gentoo (half the size of the larger King) waltzed slowly around under the rock the larger penguin stood upon in what seemed like a desperate attempt at interspecies courtship, while from time to time the King would bend down and attempt to mutually preen each other. For many, a sad romantic penguin story, for others, the chance to photograph a species of penguin that we would not normally see on this trip.

After a couple of hours ashore, it was time to leave. Sailing out through the islands gave us a beautiful view of numerous glaciers in the early evening sun, the first sun for two days…a positive omen I hope!