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Day 7 - February 17, 2011 - Pleneau Island and Neko Harbour

By by Will Wagstaff , Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 65 06S, 64 04W
Weather: Occasional snow showers with fresh northerly wind in morning leading to a calm overcast afternoon and evening.
Air Temperature: 0 C


Groups four and one were up and about early this morning for our first Zodiac cruise in the bay near Pleneau Island known as ‘The Iceberg Graveyard’. It certainly is well named with an amazing variety of shapes of ice. I was with Jarda this morning and once everyone was on board our Zodiac, it was not long before we were getting close up views of the icebergs.

The variety of colour of the icebergs from palest white to the deepest blue was amazing. Many of the larger bergs had been grounded here for a while and had been sculpted by the prevailing conditions. A scattering of Antarctic Skuas and Antarctic Terns were overhead and a small group of Gentoo Penguins went by, porpoising their way through the water. We found several Crabeater Seals during the cruise, some of which were hauled out quite low to the water, which enabled Jarda to get our Zodiac into a position to get a good view. Several showed the long scars typically associated with them having been attacked by Leopard Seals or Orcas.

At the end of this cruise we returned to the ship to collect guests from groups two and three and headed back out into the bay where we found the wind had freshened a little, but we were sheltered when between the bergs. Again, the shape and texture of the ice was the subject of many photographs as we cruised by. The Crabeater Seals did not seem bothered to see us again. In fact they very often did not lift their heads, although one did yawn to show us its teeth that were used to sieve out the Krill that constitute the main part of its diet.

Once everyone was back on board by 9.00, we set sail along the most photogenic strait in the Peninsular, the Lemaire Channel. A few more seals were noted along the way along with a brief sighting of a Minke Whale. Once we had exited the channel we continued our way towards our landing site this afternoon at Neko Harbour.

In late morning Robin Aiello gave us a lecture on what is was like to have spent four months leading a scuba diving research team in the Ross Sea in her talk entitled ‘Life as a Scientist in Antarctica – A Summer on and Under the Ice’.

Just after her talked ended, we passed close to the Argentine Base Brown where the Captain manoeuvred us close to the nearby cliffs so we could get a super view of the Blue-eyed Shag colony. Robin asked me to open up the foredeck so we could get even closer to these birds. Although we had seen a few at Jougla Point we had a much better view of these birds including of the one adult being mobbed by its two young as it returned with food. The only Snowy Sheathbills we saw today were looking for tidbits in this colony.

It was then time for lunch before getting ready for this afternoon’s activities in Neko Harbour. Whilst groups two and three headed for shore, groups one and four boarded the Zodiacs for a cruise around the small icebergs in flat calm conditions. The groups were swapped over in mid-afternoon, but in both cases most guests had good views of Minke Whale. Some obviously attracting the interest of one of the whales as it spy-hopped and proceeded to generally show off! There was also very good numbers of Crabeater Seals on the ice, so a great many photos were taken this afternoon.

Those on the shore were not to be outdone as a Weddell Seal was hauled out at the top of the landing beach and a great many Gentoo Penguins were present. Some were in various stages of moult whilst others still had young and were involved in the food chases that looked so amusing as they scuttled back and fore across the beach. Rapa, Ken and I led groups up to the site of the old refuge hut from where Rapa led those who wanted more of a hike around and up the hill to an overlook that gave superb views over the area.

Rumbling noises from the large glaciers on all sides could be heard throughout the afternoon. Most falls of ice were internal but some could be seen crashing into the sea. One in particular created quite a tidal wave along the beach so we had to move our gear a few metres up the beach to stop it getting washed away – quite a dramatic sight. Some of the guests also enjoyed a slide down a part of the hill they had walked up with Rapa. Judging by the shrieks and yells, it sounded like fun.

It was then time to head back to the ship and get ready for a Recap & Briefing. Robin Aiello went first with some recording of the various sounds that could be heard under the ice culminating with the full ’orchestra’ of sound. Luke then followed with a mass of information about the albatrosses and other birds that had been caught as a by-catch of the long-line fishing industry. He then showed how this mass killing could be avoided and how we could play our part in making sure the fish we eat came from certified sources. He was followed by Claudia who talked about the katabatic winds that we had experienced in the morning and how they were formed.

It was then time for our photographer, Kristine, to show us a little excerpt of the film and photographs she had been taking of our trip. It was an amazing collection of memories that Robin summed up by saying that we wished we could all take such good photographs.

As we were now leaving Antarctica and heading north across the Drake again, the Captain invited us to his farewell dinner that was enjoyed by all at the end of a very busy and exciting day.

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