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Day 4 - December 14, 2008 - Cuverville Island

By Victoria Salem, Historian

Position at Cuverville Island: 64°41’S, 062°38’W
Position at Dorian Bay: 64°49’S, 063°30’W
Weather and Sea conditions: Calm sea, some snow and overcast

We reached Cuverville Island at 8am, as planned, and started our morning landings there at 8.30am. The island was snow-covered and contained several gentoo penguin rookeries. After disembarkation, we could go either left or right to take in spectacular views of mountains, ice and penguins; or, alternatively, we could join Rob who was up on the slope of the hill directly in front of us for a bird’s-eye view over both island and bay. All were captivated by the antics of the penguins – stealing pebbles from each other’s nests and preparing themselves for the birth of their chicks in the next week or so.

Some of us saw – with mixed feelings – a skua grab an egg from a penguin’s nest and eat it with gusto, the penguin furiously attacking the skua and objecting loudly to this violation of its family life. (Skuas have to eat too!) Others of us saw two distant elephant seals through Chris’ telescope. All of us enjoyed this first taste of the true Antarctic, with delightful views of blue icebergs out in the bay.

At 10.30am, the groups swapped over so that all were able to enjoy the same range of experiences. A number of guests enjoyed tobogganing down the hill with Genardi and many commented on how fast the penguins could swim under water, darting at full speed in different directions with the mere beat of a flipper.

We all returned to the ship for lunch, then were soon outside on deck to watch the Prince Albert II’s progress through the Neumayer Channel, one of the most beautiful and scenic passages in Antarctica.

At 1.45pm, our Expedition Leader, Robin, summoned us to a recap and briefing in The Theatre, to sum up our experiences of Antarctica so far and let us know what was happening tomorrow. I told the guests about Mawson’s Australian expedition of 1910 – 14, as on this very day (December 14) in 1912, a key team member fell into a crevasse with the six best sled dogs and most of the group’s food…And on this day in 1911, Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole. So a red-letter day in Antarctic history! Rob talked of icebergs and sea ice and Chris expanded our knowledge of the romantic habits of penguins…

After spending time out on deck and enjoying spectacular views of the Neumayer Channel, we arrived at Dorian Bay, our second landing place for today. The first group disembarked at 4pm onto a rocky beach and were led by expedition staff around the shoreline (past many beached bergy bits of ice and multi-coloured seaweed) and onto an ice slope between gentoo rookeries to see two Weddell seals hauled out on the snow, digesting squid and fish. One of the seals slept throughout our encounter, but the other decided to return to the sea and we were able to watch the effort this entailed, since Weddell seals look like slugs and cannot walk on their flippers. We watched one seal heading back, caterpillar-like, to the sea, once more in its element.

The groups swapped over at 6pm and again enjoyed seal-watching and wandering along the rocky beach, admiring gentoo penguin reflections in rock pools and the view over the bay, where an Argentine refuge hut and British Antarctic Survey building could be seen on the snowy slope opposite. A couple of adelie penguins were sighted, one juvenile and one adult.

All were back on board shortly after 7.30pm and headed to dinner. Some of us chose to have an early night after a full day, in anticipation of tomorrow’s busy timetable of continental landings and Zodiac cruises. Others of us retired to The Panorama Lounge to enjoy the smooth sounds of Adam before retiring to bed.

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