Day 5 |
Jan 22, 2009

Danco Coast, Antarctic Continent

By Peter W. Damisch, Historian and Naturalist

Paradise Harbor: Almirante Brown Station (Argentina)

Waterboat Point: González Videla (Chile)

Noon Position: 54°48.6’S 68°18.0’W

Weather: Superb with partly cloudy skies, air temperature + 2o C(36o F), and wind 14 km/hour

We had another great and fulfilling day in pristine Antarctica! This stunningly beautiful land continues to amaze us with its epic natural grandeur as well as inquisitive, unique animals not seen anywhere else on Earth.

After a superb breakfast, we had the rare opportunity to explore the Danco Coast of Antarctica in greater detail than most expeditions with two continental landings in the same day! In addition, our experienced Expedition Leader was able to receive almost unheard of permission to visit the historic sites of two different research stations.

First thing in the morning, we had the pleasure to go ashore at Almirante Brown, Argentinian Station, which has a proud history stretching back to 1950. It is situated on a small knoll, adjacent to a cascading glacier, overlooking Paradise Harbor, so named prior to 1920 by sailors who felt that the beauty of the area must be paradise. Despite the scientific research, the station is surrounded by a vigorous colony of undisturbed Gentoo Penguins. Large numbers of little chicks had recently hatched but had grown quite rapidly and the timing of our visit was near perfect. We were lucky enough to be some of the very few people to observe chicks just starting to get too big to fit in their nest under the parent’s warmth and now beginning to take a few tentative steps on their own. Some guests also took the opportunity to hike to the top of a nearby snow-covered hill, which resulted in a stupendous view of the entire area!

We next had the opportunity to extend our experience in this lovely location by taking a Zodiac cruise through water sparkling with chunks of pristine, glacial ice that had broken off from one of the numerous glaciers that cascade their crevassed beauty into Paradise Bay. We quietly cruised by steep snowy mountains and a vibrant Shag Cormorant colony, as well as an unusual copper rock formation in a landscape that looks like it was formed at the beginning of the universe. During this time, we could observe penguins leaping from the water, an event called “porpoising”, while also observing them ‘flying” under the Zodiac in crystal clear water. In addition, we had two unexpected bonuses: a crabeater seal lounging on top of its own ice floe as well as two humpback whales that cruised quite nearby.

Next, it was back to the Prince Albert II for another outstanding meal prepared by some of the finest chefs in the world. In additional to re-charging our batteries on board, we were also able to utilize The Restaurant’s large, picture windows on three sides to clearly observe immense icebergs floating by while penguins porpoised through the water alongside the ship. The Captain was able to expertly maneuver the ship such that we were able to see leopard seals lying on an ice floe awaiting their next meal.

This brief rest while appreciating some of the most dramatic scenery in the world allowed us to reposition for our afternoon visit to Gabriel González Videla, Chilean Research Station, which was also founded in the 1950 Antarctic Season. It is located at historic Waterboat Point, site of the 1920 - 1922 British Imperial Expedition that resulted in two individuals literally living under an overturned whale boat for one full year while taking scientific measurements – truly an historic expedition. The Chilean Base personnel made us feel right at home while we visited their small but excellent museum before venturing back outside to observe another growing penguin colony with many chicks and sheathbills. Another unexpected treat was the ability to observe 3 leucistic or white Gentoo penguins. These are extremely rare and we considered ourselves exceptionally fortunate to observe this unique creature whose unusual appearance does not interfere with any type of typical penguin socialization or breeding behavior.

Both the Argentinian and Chilean Research staff were quite gracious hosts and we very much appreciated their efforts to allow us to view some of the their scientific efforts in this wilderness region.

While en route back to the Prince Albert II, another humpback whale gave us, yet again, an outstanding display of its powerful pectoral flippers and tail flukes as it repeatedly rose to the surface and dived again.

All too soon, we found ourselves traveling back to the ship surrounded by sun-drenched, glacier-covered mountains, just in time to have our energy restored by bouillon and tapas available in the Panorama Lounge.

The Expedition Staff began to close out the day by laying out our exciting plans for tomorrow as well as providing additional information about leucistic penguins and some historical perspective on 20th-century whaling before we sauntered into The Restaurant for another highly anticipated Silversea dining experience.

Many finished their day’s adventure with a drink and by listening to live music while watching the Prince Albert II slowly cruise by ice fields illuminated in the late evening sun before wandering off to sleep and dreaming about tomorrow’s new adventures.