Day 3 |
Jan 31, 2009

Penguin Island

By Chris Collins

With the weather having moderated overnight, we awoke to a moderate sea, excellent visibility and the wind blowing at a comparatively gentle 20 knots. Shortly after breakfast, I gave a lecture on the birds of the Antarctic Peninsula. This included information about the three penguin species we expect to encounter during our shore excursions - Gentoo, Adelie and Chinstrap - as well information about the other birds we are likely to see including Snowy Sheathbill, Antarctic Cormorant, Kelp Gull and Antarctic Tern.

This was followed at 11am by the compulsory IAATO briefing, which was given by our Expedition Leader, Ignacio Rojas. During this talk, guests learnt about the rules visitors to Antarctica are expected to follow and that, for example, they should not get closer than 5 metres to the wildlife. Ignacio then followed the briefing with information about our first intended landing at Penguin Island.

By late morning, King George Island was clearly visible off our starboard bow and shortly after midday the Captain announced that our crossing of the Drake Passage had been the second fastest of the season by the Prince Albert II to date. We had indeed been extremely fortunate with the weather.

As we passed King George Island and continued on towards Penguin Island, there were plenty of seabirds around the ship. These included good numbers of Cape Petrels, a species that is usually regular in the Southern Ocean but had been bizarrely absent the previous day. Other birds seen included Wandering Albatrosses, Wilson's Storm-petrels and Southern Fulmars.

Just before lunch, the Captain announced over the public address system that there were a number of Humpback Whales close to the ship. Many of us hurried outside to enjoy our first whale sighting of the voyage.

After lunch, we landed on Penguin Island, a less frequently visited island in South Shetland chain. Ashore, the Expedition Team had flagged a path to a viewpoint that overlooked a colony of Chinstrap Penguins. There were good numbers of juveniles in the penguin colony; however, many of the adults and youngsters were muddy brown in colour as a result of being caked in a mixture of mud and liquid guano. Chinstraps are not always the most hygienic of penguins!!!

We also had great views of a number of Wilson's Storm-petrels, which were flying low overhead. Whilst we had seen a number of these during the crossing of the Drake Passage, views had been somewhat distant then, so it was great to get close-up looks at these birds, which were presumably breeding in crevices on the island.

From the viewpoint, we could also see a dozen or so Elephant Seals, which were hauled out on the beach. The most common seal on Penguin Island, however, was the Fur Seal and we saw dozens of these around the island.

At 7pm, with everyone back on the ship, Ignacio briefed us on the plans for the following day to cruise through the Antarctic Sound to Paulette Island. This was followed by a number of short presentations by the Expedition Team, including one by Claudia Holgate on 'Dynamic Flying', a short guide to how albatrosses fly.

At 7:30pm, with dinner available in The Restaurant, the Captain made an announcement that several Humpback Whales were on view and many of those on board who did not see those earlier in the day were able to see these whales.