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Day 8 - February 16, 2009 - St. Andrews Bay, Gold Harbour And Drygalski Fjord Transit

By Chris Edwards

Weather at 0600: dull, overcast, temperature: 8C, wind: 10 knots

The rattle of the anchor chain and a rather gentle wake-up call at 0600 from Ignacio heralded the start of another day of exploration. This morning there were a few thousand king penguins on the beach of St. Andrews Bay to greet us after a somewhat slow and tentative start, owing to the swell at the gangway. However, once the port side access was installed, the disembarkation took place much more safely and quickly. The effort to reach the beach was amply rewarded as approximately 160,000 king penguins, as well as fur seals, giant petrels and a number of reindeer which were grazing on the Poa annua grass behind the beach, were waiting to greet everyone as we arrived.

Almost everyone meandered along the grey sandy surface to a small hillock to gain a stupendous view over the rookery, which stretched into the distance and included crèches of “woolly” penguins chicks as well as adults in plumages varying from pristine to decidedly ragged, depending on the state of their moult. Conditions at the landing site were slightly awkward with breaking waves, but with many helping hands everyone was safely back aboard.

Lunch was a brief interlude before the next landing at Gold Harbour some two hours south-east of St Andrews Bay. With a slightly restricted area to move around in because of the fringing tussac grass, the abundant penguins and elephant seals near the shoreline, landing was done by groups. Again, a suitable site was scouted out before landing everyone adjacent to some playful fur seal teenagers who only threatened to bite. Immediately behind the landing site, a wallow of large bull elephant seals with their characteristic odour kept us amused with their grunting, snorting and bellowing. The king penguins were best viewed from a small rise in the moraine, again with chicks and sub-adults within the rookery. As the afternoon progressed, so the weather became noticeably cooler and the clouds continued to obscure the tops of the mountains.

During recap, we heard a selection of topics including a review of the geology of Drygalski Fjord, an assessment of Duncan Carse on South Georgia, and a photographic example of climate change. We were just in time to witness some large icebergs and the transit of Drygalski Fjord before the light limited visibility and the Prince Albert II turned for the open sea and Antarctica.

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