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Day 12 - February 5, 2011 - Point Wild, Elephant Island

By by Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: 61º06’S, 54º52’W
Weather: Partly sunny skies with winds increasing to 25 knots
Air Temperature: -4º C


I seem to be very lucky, because every time it is my turn to write the Voyage Journal, it is on a day that we have amazing wildlife sightings – today it was two magnificent Blue Whales – but I will get to that later on.

Firstly, we woke this morning to sunshine – YEAH!!! We haven’t had much of that in many days, so it really bolstered out spirits. The approach to Elephant Island was beautiful. The rugged peaks with their ragged-toothed ridges rose high into the sky, and in each valley was a stark white glacier. The contrast was striking.

I have been past Elephant Island many times over the past few years, but due to rough seas and strong winds I have never been able to get off the ship – but today we were lucky. The seas, although rough, were calm enough to lower Zodiacs and go on a Zodiac tour.

Point Wild, in addition to being so scenic, has a remarkable history – and that is the main reason for this morning’s stop. This is the site where Shackleton and his men beached after the SV Endurance sank in the deep Weddell Sea in 1916. Shackleton left 22 of his men here on Elephant Island (originally named Elephant Seal Island because of the abundance of elephant seals) while he and two other men made a successful passage to South Georgia to get help. Point Wild itself is named after Frank Wild the leader of the stranded men. These men survived on this small rocky beach for 135 days until help arrived on August 30, 1916. None of the guests in my Zodiac could imagine how those 22 men survived in such a remote and precarious place for so many days!!!

With the Zodiacs we were able to approach the coastline and see the monument that marks this site. This monument, with a bronze bust of Captain Luis Pardo Villalon, the master of the Yelcho (the ship that rescued the men here), was erected during a Chilean Antarctic Scientific Expedition in 1987-88.

Today, the site is overridden with thousands of chinstrap penguins. They are so funny! We watched, mesmerized, by the silly antics of these small creatures. On one large iceberg, we floated for about 20 minutes watching a small group of about 50 penguins getting on and off the iceberg. They would make these stunning leaps out of the water onto the side of the slope, and miraculously start to hop and scramble up the sheer ice – but then, sometimes, they would start to slip and despite many acrobatic moves, end up flopping back into the water. All of us were giggling at the show they were putting on for us.

By lunchtime we were all back onboard – and just in time – for the winds were increasing and so were the swells. But Mother Nature had another surprise in store for us that would keep us from lunch for another 30 minutes or so. A Blue Whale!! In fact, TWO Blue Whales!

These magnificent whales are the largest creatures ever to have lived on earth – EVER!!! Even bigger than the largest dinosaur!! They reach 27m in length and 120 tons. But more amazing, these monsters feed on one of the smallest marine creatures – krill. And boy do they eat – they consume on average 3 – 8 tons of krill every day (which, if you are wondering, has the equivalent caloric value as 12,000 hamburgers!!!).

The two Blue Whales were quietly lulling on the surface of the sea – at times only tens of meters from the ship. There were also a few Fin Whales about, but in comparison they seemed like puppies. The Blue’s were easy to tell apart – not only are their blows narrow and tall and up to 9m straight up into the sky, but their backs are HUGE!! No mistaking these whales.

Finally, the two whales decided to move away, and so did we –heading off for the Antarctic Peninsula for a full day tomorrow. Our plan is to make a continental landing at Brown Bluff, then cruise the tabular icebergs in the Antarctic Sound area.

Robin West, our Expedition Leader, gave us a couple hours off to grab a power-nap, but at 5pm we were up again in The Theatre for a lecture by Uli on the diving adaptations of marine mammals. And, as usual, just before dinner, we had Recap & Briefing, where Robin broke the news to the guests (and the Expedition Team) that we would be starting at about 5am tomorrow in order to fit in all the planned activities.

So, excuse me if I do not write anymore – but it is time for me to go to bed, dream of Blue Whales and things to come tomorrow. Good Night!

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