Day 12 |
Oct 29, 2009

Isla Pan De Azucar, Chile

By Chris Srigley, General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 26º09’13”S, 70º39’41”W

Weather: Overcast with slight wind and swell

As I peered from the window of my stateroom this morning, although overcast, I was delighted to see the conditions of the sea were calm. However, by the time I had finished my breakfast and boarded my Zodiac, the winds had come up, bringing in a slight chop. Although it would be possible to commence operations, it was sure to be a slow process at the gangway.

With the help of AB’s Arman and Batang on the gangway, my Zodiac was loaded with 7 guests. As we pushed off, we quickly discussed our tour, what we hoped to see, the conditions and my requests for all onboard to let me know when they wanted me to position the Zodiac as to place them in the best situation for the photos they would like to take.

Radioing into the Bridge to inform them of my numbers and our intentions, we headed for the islands shoreline. Doing my best to keep everyone from breaking waves, it was a slow ride.

Once along shore, we could see Peruvian Pelicans, Blackish Oystercatchers and Peruvian Booby’s resting in amongst the boulders. Sea Lions splashed in the white water of the waves and jostled onshore, all of which we had expected to see.

Within minutes though, Robin Aiello came over the radio. “MARINE OTTER, MARINE OTTER, WE HAVE A MARINE OTTER OFF OF OUR BOW!!” This was something we had only hoped to see rather than expected. Found only along the coast of South America from Peru to southern Chile (through the Humbolt Current), the small marine mammals may only number in the hundreds with upper estimates at 1,000.

As quickly as possible, we made our way to Robin’s location in hopes of a good view. Sadly, by the time we navigated the swell and barely submerged boulders in our path, it had vanished.

Being just over 3 feet in length and up to 10 lbs and hiding in amongst the kelp along the surf line, these tiny creatures can be hard to spot even at the best of times. Hunted to low numbers for their pelts before being protected, they still face struggles to survive.

Local fisherman continue to see them as competition for fish as well as the harvesting of kelp beds, which is a large portion of their diet. Toxin levels in the water do not help either.

Not dwelling on our missed opportunity, we pushed on for the large colony of South American Sea Lions at the far end of the island. As we approached a 25 – 30 ft cliff, several males sitting along the top began to fight. As all onboard gasped, one was suddenly plunging to the surf-beaten rocks below!

Rounding the next corner, one of my guests screamed, “OTTER!!” There on the shoreline were two Marine Otters chewing away on their fresh catch. We had finally gotten the prize of the day and for all of us our first views ever of this reclusive species.

After several hours, we headed back to the Prince Albert II; our morning had been a success. It was time to pass our thoughts onto lunch and afternoon lectures.

As we sailed south, I took my usual position on the outer decks trying to spot whales and seabirds before the time came to head into The Theatre for Robin West’s talk on Silversea’s purchase and refit of the Prince Albert II  “The Making of the Prince Albert II”. Always a hit with the guests, they filled The Theatre at a time in the day that can be hard to pull them away from naps!

Later on, Robin Aiello gave her talk, “Sea Monsters, Mermaids & Giants – Fact or Fiction”, a lighthearted discussion about local legends and how they evolved from real animals. Whenever Robin is giving one of her lectures, it is hard to stay out of The Theatre!

With our voyage quickly coming to an end, we gathered in The Theatre once again for our final formal Recap & Briefing.

Today was definitely what we had been waiting for, time in the Zodiacs, close encounters with wildlife and a mix of lectures separated by fine dinning and good company. A day of true expedition cruising onboard the Prince Albert II!