Day 12 |
Jan 01, 2010

Point Wilde, Elephant Island, The Antarctic

By Claudia Holgate, Climatologist

Co-ordinates: 61 o 05’ 44”S 54o 52’ 03”W

Weather: Calm partly overcast conditions, clearing later Air Temperature: -4.5C

Pressure: 990HPa

Wind: 50 km/h Northerly wind

Ever day just gets better and better. Today was no exception. After a great party last night with our Prince Albert II crew band putting on a truly spectacular performance to see the year in, I was quite convinced that most of or guests would opt for a sleep-in and not come out on the Zodiac cruise that we offered early this morning. Well how wrong was I? Everyone, except two guests made it out into the Zodiacs.

Point Wilde, named after Frank Wilde of Shackleton’s expedition, is a place we so seldom actually manage to do anything at due to the rough sea conditions and lack of protection here. Point Wilde is the small spit of land that Shackelton’s men, (all 22 of them) waited 134 days at under two small boats in the middle of winter, before being rescued. When one sees the tiny little outcrop, it really brings home the story of courage and survival, which is quite extraordinary.

The area is characterized by a chinstrap penguin colony, so we had a good look at them and their funny behaviour, as they waited for a group to gather before either pushing one into the water or having a mass exodus of the rocks. This is all for a good reason of course, as there are leopard seals patrolling the area and today was no exception on that front either.

As I was driving the Zodiac in the channel between two rocky outcrops, we had a leopard seal catch a penguin right on front of us. We were about 2 metres away from this seal as he is tossing the penguin up in the air and shaking it to bits to turn it inside out. Leopard seals don’t like penguin feathers, so they manage to turn them inside out before eating them. He didn’t seem at all perturbed by our presence.
The rest of our Zodiac cruise was perhaps less exciting, but very picturesque, with the glacier, which calved off for us, as if giving us a special show. The huge icebergs are like individual sculptures and as someone in my Zodiac said “There is no mass production line for icebergs”. Some of them were a deep blue and one had fine lines of blue and white swirling through the ice, truly magnificent. These are the first icebergs that we had been close to during our trip and they gave everyone a taste of what is yet to come.

Reluctantly we had to head back to the ship for lunch and some lectures as we made our way to the Antarctic Sound and Brown Bluff. Michaela presented the first lecture today on life under the sea, talking about everything from Phytoplankton to Krill and the whole Antarctic ecosystem. In the afternoon, we had a call for fin whales and when we went outside, we had whales in every direction, pretty much what I would call a “Clock of whales” as there were whales at 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock etc. We were surrounded.

Rich (Mad Dog) gave our next lecture on wildlife and nature photography, which was truly inspiring and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The whales, however, were not terribly interested in us enjoying the lecture, as this time we had a small pod of humpback whales right in front of the ship, so close the Capitan had to put the brakes on. What a display! This display didn’t last that long, however and we soon all went back to Rich’s lecture.

Recap & Briefing followed with us covering everything that we had seen for the day and getting a briefing for tomorrow. Another early morning start it is to be for us tomorrow, but we don’t mind. We are all having a great time and I cannot think of a better way to start my New Year.