Aitcho Island: 62°24.7’S 059°44.5’W
Weather: Overcast with 20 knot winds
The seas remained rough all night, but we were surprised by how well the Prince Albert II, with its stabilizers, rode the swells. We were at sea again all day on our way down to the Antarctic Peninsula.
The morning was full of interesting and educational lectures by the Expedition Team. Dr Gennadi Milinevsky started the day with his lecture entitled: “Antarctica Science, Why is it Important?” During his talk, he highlighted the important research that is being carried out at the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Station where he was the original station manager when the Ukrainians took it over from the British. The main concentration of his research was in the area of climate change and the dynamic relationship between the sun, Earth, space and weather.
At 11 am, Juan Restrepo, the onboard geologist, presented his talk entitled “Earth – What Lies Below”. This was a fascinating introduction to the workings of Earth – including its origin, its structure, plate tectonics and continental drift. Juan covered most of the basic concepts about geology and introduced us to a range of geological terms. He also gave us an overview of the geology of Antarctica and brought our attention to some of the geological features we were to see in coming days.
Many of us took the opportunity before lunch to wander the decks and watch the magnificent albatrosses and petrels flying close to the ship. There were several species spotted, including the Wandering Albatross, Light Mantled Sooty Albatross, Antarctic Petrel and Cape petrel.
After a sumptuous buffet lunch, we all had to attend a mandatory briefing on two key subjects – Zodiac operations and IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) regulations. The IAATO regulations are a set of rules that all visitors to Antarctica must follow – they have been adopted by most all tour operators in the region in attempts to safeguard and protect he wildlife of Antarctica from any potential impacts from tourism. The main rule is that we have to remain more than 5m from any wildlife (penguins and seals).
During this briefing, our Expedition Leader, Robin West, announced a huge surprise – we had made such good time crossing the Drake Passage that we were going to be able to make a landing at Aitcho Island.
So, at 4pm, we started boarding the Zodiacs for the first time and were carried to the landing site. It was absolutely beautiful!!! There were patches of penguin rookeries everywhere! Thousands of gentoo and chinstrap penguins dotted the landscape. And an even bigger surprise was that there was a single individual king penguin and a single adelie penguin as well. The Expedition Team pointed out that most of the nesting penguins had either eggs or just hatched chicks. We watched as the parents fed the chicks through regurgitation. To top the whole experience off, just as we started to head back to the ship via Zodiac, it started to snow!
We are so excited now – we can hardly wait to land tomorrow at Dorian Bay and Cuverville (if the weather permits, of course!)