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Day 5 - February 15, 2011 - Cuverville Island & Port Lockroy

By by Ken Knowles, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 64◦40’ S, W 62º37’ W
Weather: Sun and cloud
Air Temperature: 1.8◦C
Pressure: 971 hPA
Wind: 12.4 km


As an incurable early riser, I was rewarded this morning by seeing the first rays of sunlight hitting the icy peaks of Anvers Island. I noticed that many guests had learned (from Kristine, our on-board photographer?) to look for photo opportunities in the early morning light.

After breakfast, we landed Zodiacs on Cuverville Island where we had the chance to see the youngest penguins of the trip, some only a few days old. Where there are young penguins, there are predators and several Zodiac groups witnessed the killing of penguins by the huge leopard seals – one huge female estimated to be nearly 4 metres long. The estimate was made as the seal actually struck against the side of the Zodiac with a penguin in its mouth. Guests watched in both horror and amazement as the seal thrashed the penguin on the surface repeatedly to separate the skin from the fat.

On land there were some gruesome scenes as well. Some guests witnessed the death of a young penguin that the skuas somehow separated from the adult. Several guests also saw a skua steal a penguin egg and actually bring it amongst a circle of guests to devour. I found myself having to back up in order to get enough distance to focus my camera.

Not all was death and destruction as we also had close-up looks at the completely endearing chicks, some that the staff had seen last week as eggs, now hatched as tiny young, barely able to hold their heads up to beg for food.

Back aboard, we barely had time for a quick lunch before the announcement came from the Bridge that a pod of Orcas was cruising the channel ahead of the ship. As always, the Captain manoeuvred the Prince Albert II amazingly close without interfering with the path of the whales. Two big males with nearly two-metre dorsal fins accompanied smaller females with young as we cruised at killer whale speed in their wake.

After lunch we made our second landing of the day in Port Lockroy – the only shopping and post office available on the entire Antarctic Peninsula. The word is that the shoppers did more than their share of enhancing the local economy. Postcards to envious friends and loved ones were stamped and mailed. Some guests even visited the museum, although this definitely took a back seat to the shopping.

Across the small bay from Port Lockroy was Jougla Point, home to a colony of Gentoo penguins and some breeding Blue-eyed Shags. The official name of this gorgeous bird is Antarctic Cormorant, but the blue eyes on the adults, combined with the orangey-yellow “caruncles” above the bill make the more common nickname quite appropriate. As well as the shags, Jougla Point is home to a re-assembled whale skeleton that never swam Antarctic waters in real life – the skeleton is a combination of at least three species of whale!

The evening schedule was a work in progress, with frequent revisions by Robin, who had the job of getting everyone through dinner in time for the spectacular cruise of the Lemaire Channel, probably the finest scenery in the Peninsula with its combination of narrow straight and mountains straight out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. In the best Silversea tradition, hot chocolate miraculously appeared on the fore-deck as we photographed at full speed.

Our day began with a spectacular sunrise, and ended with a glorious sunset. The Antarctic at its best.

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