Voyage Journal 7105 Day 6


Day 6 - February 26, 2011 - Peterman Island & Port Charcot zodiac cruise

By by Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: 65˚00’S, 63˚48’W
Weather: Overcast with short periods of sun
Air Temperature: 0ºC

Today was wonderful! Two great places in one day – and good weather too! We started early at 8:00, for our morning landing at Peterman Island, where we were hoping to see our third species of penguin – the Adelie penguins. I personally find the Zodiac approach to this island very scenic with the rugged rocky coastline surrounding the snow-covered slopes that lead up to the tallest peak at about 200m high.

Once ashore, we were met by several Gentoo penguin chicks that were hanging out at the landing site. They were so cute! Since they are still in the process of molting, they have patches of downy grey fluff sticking out all over their bodies, making them look extremely disheveled. And they are so curious – poking around all our gear and even climbing up onto our boot cleaning brushes to investigate.

The guests had several options for activities to do on their own – they could wander up to the scenic lookout that overlooks the ocean and several large icebergs, they could visit the historic shelter building and the cross, or they could visit Will (our birder) and I over on the northern side where we had found a small group of seven Adelie penguins who were in the final stages of molting.

Initially there were a few snow flurries, but soon after the first couple of groups arrived onshore the weather cleared and the sun even broke through for a few moments. Everyone had a great time just wandering around on their own taking in the majestic views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers, as well as the silly antics of the penguins.

During lunch, the ship relocated a few miles farther north to our next destination – Booth Island and Pleneau Island where we were going to do our afternoon Zodiac cruise. This is a beautiful place and commonly called the “Iceberg Graveyard” because large icebergs get carried into this passageway and trapped by a series of shallow rocks at the eastern end.

This is my absolutely favourite Zodiac cruise – we weave our way through magnificent icebergs that tower above us. The colours are indescribable – the pale blue-green of the shallow water surrounding the bases of the icebergs, the pale blues of the ice above and the dark violet-blue of the caves and holes. Cruising around each iceberg is a constant surprise – they look completely different from every angle. Sometimes, as we would come around a corner, we would suddenly come upon a group of crabeater seals hauled out on the ice.

These seals are very distinctive – having very pale, nearly silver fur, long narrow snouts and short whiskers. Some of the most striking things that you see on these seals are lots of large scars. These scars are made by Leopard seal attacks (crabeaters seals make up a large percentage of the Leopard seals’ diet). Crabeater seals feed exclusively on krill, and it is estimated that they can eat 20 – 25 times their own weight in krill every year (since the seals weigh on average 230 kg, this means that one seal could eat as much as 5,700kg (5.7 tons) a year – WOW!!!).

On my first Zodiac tour we had an amazing experience – we came upon a group of over 30 Crabeater seals swimming in a tight group on the water’s surface. They swam as a unit and were circling around and around in one area. We were so close that we could hear them exhaling every time they took a breath. It was amazing – but what was even more spectacular was a line of one or two hundred gentoo penguins porpoising towards us on the other side. What I think was going on was that there was a large swarm of krill beneath the water and both the seals and the penguins were converging to feed.

All the guests were smiling and very excited as they climbed off the Zodiacs and back on board the Prince Albert II. It really had been an amazing day.

As usual, just before dinner, we met in The Theatre for the Recap & Briefing, where Robin West (our Expedition Leader) told everyone about our activities for the next day – a combined Zodiac tour and landing at Neko Harbour! And…the weather looks like it might be even better than it was today!!!