Day 9 |
Dec 07, 2009

Half Moon Island And Aitcho Island

By Claudia Holgate, Climatologist

Co-ordinates: 62 o 34’ 13”S 59o35’ 04”W

Weather: Calm overcast conditions with slight breeze

Air Temperature: -0.5 C

Pressure: 982HPa

Wind: 28 km/h Northerly

We had an early morning wake up today as our first landing was at Half Moon Island at 6:30am. Half Moon Island is well named as it is indeed in the shape of a half moon, which is great as it gives us some protection from potential rough seas. The weather was pretty chilly, with some snowfall. Half Moon is a chinstrap penguin colony, and although some of the guests had seen chinstraps a couple of days ago, this was our opportunity to get up close and personal to some of these amazingly beautiful little penguins. My quote of the day came from a guest, who asked why they had the chinstrap, to which another guest replied, “To keep his head on, of course.” My highlight of the landing though, has to be the appearance of a leopard seal right by the landing site. He was awfully curious and gave the guests a really close look at his massive head, as he came up right by the side of the Zodiac. He later lay on his back, in the water, at the stern of the Zodiac, looking at me, clearly wondering if I was food or foe.

We begrudgingly left half moon so that we could head off to our next landing at Aitcho Island. Shortly after leaving Half Moon, the Captain came over the intercom saying that there were humpback whales on the starboard side, so everyone grabbed their parkas and cameras and rushed outside to a display of note by two very relaxed humpbacks. They logged at the surface, spy-hopped (came up head first to see what was going on), and then they dived showing us stunning flukes. They didn’t dive long though, before coming up and blowing and grunting really close to the ship. Then one of the whales lay on his back and waved his massive 5m pectoral flipper at us before slapping it on the water. What a wonderful experience for all of us!!

We had a few hours before our next stop at Aitcho Island, so our onboard general naturalist, Rich “Mad Dog” Kirchner gave us a talk on his time spent living in Antarctica at the McMurdo station. It was a fascinating exposé of the beauty and danger of living and over-wintering in the Antarctic.

We had an early lunch so that we could get to Aitcho Island on time. Aitcho, a name that actually comes from HO, which stands for Hydrographic Office, is a great little island with a Chinstrap and Gentoo penguin colony. Even though it was overcast, there was very little wind and the weather was great, so most guests sat on the snow and just watched the penguins waddle past and go about their own business. There was a feeling of great sadness as it sank in that this was our last landing of the cruise and although the cruise is not over, our time in Antarctica is at an end.

On our return to the ship, just before I was about to jump into the shower to warm up, Expedition Leader Conrad came over the intercom inviting us to the sun deck to toast Antarctica and our wonderful journey as we left the continent and headed into the Drake Passage. So we all donned our parkas again and headed out to chat to our new found friends and enjoy the remaining calm seas before hitting the Drake. We had a Recap of today’s activities in the evening, with much fun and banter between Expedition Team members. As always, our day ended with a delicious meal followed by the opportunity to try out our vocal skills at the karaoke evening in the Panorama Lounge.