Category

Southern Ocean

Hannah Point, Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands

Southern Ocean

Our final land visit was at Hannah Point in the South Shetland Islands. The crossing to Livingston Island from the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula was, in a word, snotty. Decent swells, snow and rain, and high winds. Not drama-queen rough, but rocking and rolling enough that I preferred to sit down with a tea and watch the world go by through the big windows in the upstairs salon than spend my time on deck with a camera. It also meant that the prospects of making a landing were not looking good. But Hannah Point was on the lee side of Livingston Island this morning, and once in the bight of the island (formed by a portion of a volcanic caldera) that makes up the approach to the landing, the seas settled down somewhat and a landing was made. On the point itself are, surprisingly, more penguins. Notably, however, there is also some vegetation, something we saw very little of over the past week in Antartica. A long, curving black-sand beach in the distance showed some juvenile southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina), so I passed by the penguins and headed down to watch the elephant seals mock-fighting in the water.

Southern elephant seal watches gentoo penguin, Mirounga leonina, Pygoscelis papua, Livingston Island

Southern elephant seal watches gentoo penguin.
Image ID: 25915
Species: Southern elephant seal, Gentoo penguin, Mirounga leonina, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Livingston Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Southern elephant seal, hind flipper detail, Mirounga leonina, Livingston Island

Southern elephant seal, hind flipper detail.
Image ID: 25918
Species: Southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina
Location: Livingston Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

The bulls had by this time of year all cleared off the beach and were out at sea foraging for food. Only younger animals remained, wallowing on a bluff 50’ above the water or down on the sand beach. I tried to make some images of them in the water, wrestling and tossing water about. Occasional blasts of sand-strewn wind would howl down the beach in an effort to bowl us over. Gentoos would regularly swim in to the beach and waddle on the sand to their rookeries a few hundred yards away. Twice I witnessed wind blasts topple the small but sturdy birds, only to see them pop up a moment later and continue on their way as if nothing had happened. I am continually impressed with their hardiness. My final attempt at a photograph on land for this trip was to lay down in the blasting sand, which was growing worse by the hour, and try to illustrate how the sand raked over the seals. I got a few shots that I am reasonably happy with but may be picking sand out of my camera for months. About noon we depart, heading off for what promises to be a fun-filled two days in the Drake Passage.

Southern elephant seal, juveniles mock sparring, Mirounga leonina, Livingston Island

Southern elephant seal, juveniles mock sparring.
Image ID: 25923
Species: Southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina
Location: Livingston Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: The Drake Passage
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Humpback Whales in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica

Antarctica, Humpback Whale, Southern Ocean

As we sailed north from Neko Harbor to the South Shetland Islands, we came upon a large assemblage of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeding in the Gerlache Strait. They were on krill, as evidenced by the color of their waste, but the water was too rough to make out patches or balls of the invertebrate stuff. At one point Jim estimated we had seen over 45 humpbacks in the area about 2 miles long by half the width of the strait. One group of five whale provided some excellent examples of surface lunge feeding. While not the coordinated bubble-net feeding that is normally associated with Alaskan humpback whales, the behavior of these whales did include some bubble displays.

Humpback whale lunge feeding on Antarctic krill, with mouth open and baleen visible.  The humbpack's throat grooves are seen as its pleated throat becomes fully distended as the whale fills its mouth with krill and water.  The water will be pushed out, while the baleen strains and retains the small krill, Megaptera novaeangliae, Gerlache Strait

Humpback whale lunge feeding on Antarctic krill, with mouth open and baleen visible. The humbpack’s throat grooves are seen as its pleated throat becomes fully distended as the whale fills its mouth with krill and water. The water will be pushed out, while the baleen strains and retains the small krill.
Image ID: 25648
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Gerlache Strait, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Humpback whale lunge feeding on Antarctic krill, with mouth open and baleen visible.  The humbpack's pink throat grooves are seen as its pleated throat becomes fully distended as the whale fills its mouth with krill and water.  The water will be pushed out, while the baleen strains and retains the small krill, Megaptera novaeangliae, Gerlache Strait

Humpback whale lunge feeding on Antarctic krill, with mouth open and baleen visible. The humbpack’s pink throat grooves are seen as its pleated throat becomes fully distended as the whale fills its mouth with krill and water. The water will be pushed out, while the baleen strains and retains the small krill.
Image ID: 25649
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Gerlache Strait, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

In fact, it was easy to know when the group of five was about the surface since one of the five predictably produced a subsurface blast of air a few seconds before surfacing. With a little practice it was possible to put the camera near the spot at which the whales would surface and then it was a matter of luck, firing the frames as quickly as possible and hoping the whales would surface with open mouth and full, pleated throat in the frame. We watched the whales until at least 10:30pm, when I finally got a shot of them coming toward the boat. One shot in particular illustrates the baleen, tongue and fully-engorged throat of a krill-feeding humpback. It would have been inconceivable to get this image 10 years ago when I was shooting film, at such a late hour in dim, overcast light, but the modern cameras allow for this sort of photo with relative ease. ISO 1600, lens wide open at f/4, hand-holding a stabilized 500mm lens on a rocking boat at only 1/500, and yet three of the four frames of that sequence are sufficiently sharp for publication. Wonders never cease. About 11pm we finally leave the whales and continue north through the Gerlache Strait, leaving the Antarctic Peninsula in our wake about dawn. Alas, Antarctica is now just a memory.

Scenery in Gerlache Strai.  Clouds, mountains, snow, and ocean, at sunset in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica

Scenery in Gerlache Strai. Clouds, mountains, snow, and ocean, at sunset in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica.
Image ID: 25680
Location: Gerlache Strait, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Hannah Point, Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands
Previous: Neko Harbor, Antarctica
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Neko Harbor, Antarctica

Antarctica, Humpback Whale, Southern Ocean

Photos of Neko Harbor, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

I awoke this morning to find us in the calm anchorage of Paradise Bay. The water was glass, and bergs were slowly drifting by the boat, riding tidal currents. I set up a time lapse sequence on the stern of the boat and went below for breakfast. An hour later the sequence was finished, and it turned out to be pretty good when viewed in HD. The gentle swing of the boat on its anchor combined nicely with the slow movement of the berg and the passing clouds. Soon after breakfast we motored for about an hour to Neko Harbor, passing a smaller ship (with 250 passengers, crowded!) on our way into Neko Harbor. What a spectacular place. This was one of my favorite spots on the entire peninsula because we finally had a full day of encounters with mammals. (I had had my fill of penguins well before this morning). Light rain and some snow eventually cleared to broken sunshine lighting up the peaks that tower about the ice-filled bay. Two glaciers calved large bergs periodically, including a large snow avalance that blew apart into a cloud of snow late in the afternoon.

A glacier fractures and cracks, as the leading of a glacier fractures and cracks as it reaches the ocean.  The pieces will float away to become icebergs, Neko Harbor

A glacier fractures and cracks, as the leading of a glacier fractures and cracks as it reaches the ocean. The pieces will float away to become icebergs.
Image ID: 25654
Location: Neko Harbor, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

On my morning zodiac outing, Al picked out some good ice for us to inspect, and Patrick took us in for a close look. Huge columns of fractured blue ice defined the leading edge of a glacier. We took a lot of pictures of those formations, and also simply motored by them admiring them. Once back on the big boat for lunch I learned that another group was blessed with an inquisitive minke whale which stayed right next to their zodiac for 90 minutes, spyhopping and circling the 9 lucky viewers. One of the group mentioned to me, in a somewhat reverential tone, that it was a “life moment” for her. I recall some of my earliest, best encounters with whales at close range, and I understand what she must have felt. Good for them. Throughout the day most of the us were fortunate to see scattered crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophagus), Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) and leopard seals resting on bergs, along with an occasional minke whale and many good views of humpback whales. I managed to take a few nice photos of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) fluking up in front of ice, a shot which I had tried for years before in Alaska with no luck. At 4:30pm it was time to wrap it up and head out, too soon to leave Neko Harbor but we had to begin the long sail north through the Gerlach Strait and on to Hannah Point.

Southern humpback whale in Antarctica, with significant diatomaceous growth (brown) on the underside of its fluke, lifting its fluke before diving in Neko Harbor, Antarctica, Megaptera novaeangliae

Southern humpback whale in Antarctica, with significant diatomaceous growth (brown) on the underside of its fluke, lifting its fluke before diving in Neko Harbor, Antarctica.
Image ID: 25647
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Neko Harbor, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

A crabeater seal, hauled out on pack ice to rest.  Crabeater seals reach 2m and 200kg in size, with females being slightly larger than males.  Crabeaters are the most abundant species of seal in the world, with as many as 75 million individuals.  Despite its name, 80% the crabeater seal's diet consists of Antarctic krill.  They have specially adapted teeth to strain the small krill from the water, Lobodon carcinophagus, Neko Harbor

A crabeater seal, hauled out on pack ice to rest. Crabeater seals reach 2m and 200kg in size, with females being slightly larger than males. Crabeaters are the most abundant species of seal in the world, with as many as 75 million individuals. Despite its name, 80% the crabeater seal’s diet consists of Antarctic krill. They have specially adapted teeth to strain the small krill from the water.
Image ID: 25650
Species: Crabeater seal, Lobodon carcinophagus
Location: Neko Harbor, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Humpback whales in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica
Previous: Cloudy Morning in Paradise Bay, Antarctica
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Cloudy Morning in Paradise Bay, Antarctica

Antarctica, Southern Ocean, Time Lapse, Video

Last night we sailed down the Lemaire Channel a second time, after a visit to Peterman Island. This morning we awoke in Paradise Bay. We would remain here for a few hours while we ate breakfast. As I was below in the galley enjoying eggs, cheese, fruit and coffee (the food was great on the M/V Polar Star), I left my camera alone out on the deck shooting one frame every 4 seconds. I slapped them together into a time lapse video, which you see below thanks to Youtube!

Next: Neko Harbor, Antarctica
Previous: Peterman Island, Antarctica
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Peterman Island, Antarctica

Antarctica, Southern Ocean

Photos of Peterman Island, Antarctica

Soon after passing through the Lemaire Channel we arrive at Peterman Island. Peterman Island is a relatively low-lying, somewhat flattish granite island with scattered gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) colonies and some small ponds. Rounded rocks along the edge of the island are awash with small waves, and I make my way to one attractive point away from the penguins (I have had enough of photographing penguins by this point) to make pictures of the water swirling ashore with peaks and clouds in the distance. I stand about thigh deep in the ocean water, but its not as cold as I expected – my boots and pants keep me dry.

Waves rush in, sunset, Antarctica.  Ocean water rushes ashore over the rocky edge of Peterman Island, Antarctica

Waves rush in, sunset, Antarctica. Ocean water rushes ashore over the rocky edge of Peterman Island, Antarctica.
Image ID: 25610
Location: Peterman Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

After about 15 minutes, I hear a rustling behind me. A gentoo penguin has snuck up on me, standing on a ledge at my shoulder only about 3’ away, watching me and nosing my backpack lying next to him. We both stand still for a few moments, checking one another out. Is it making sure there is nothing to be fearful of? Perhaps. Eventually, the gentoo starts nibbling some clean white snow next to me. I go on with my picture taking. When I turn around a few minutes later, it is still there watching me, now joined by another gentoo. I set one of my cameras on the granite and put a self timer on it, and let it take a few photos of the two little birds (see next image). Soon they waddle down to the water and swim off.

Gentoo penguins, Peterman Island, Antarctica, Pygoscelis papua

Gentoo penguins, Peterman Island, Antarctica
Image ID: 25613
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Peterman Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

I pack up and hike about the island, past many more penguins on their nests feeding their pairs of chicks:

Gentoo penguin adult tending to its two chicks.  The chicks will remain in the nest for about 30 days after hatching, Pygoscelis papua, Peterman Island

Gentoo penguin adult tending to its two chicks. The chicks will remain in the nest for about 30 days after hatching.
Image ID: 25601
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Peterman Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Before returning by zodiac to the ship, I visit a lonely memorial to three BAS (British Antarctic Survey) scientists who were working at the small research hut on Peterman Island some years ago and trapped there by partially frozen seas with insufficient provisions. The ice conditions were such that the three BAS staff could not safely walk out, nor could a boat reach them. They waited weeks for help. Eventually a BAS ship reached Peterman Island, but instead of finding the researchers only a note was discovered. It is believed all three BAS scientists perished after attempting walk across the thin ice to another research station 9 miles away, likely falling into the strait through the thin ice. The memorial is a poignant reminder of the unforgiving nature of life on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Argentine research hut on Petermann Island, Antarctica, Pygoscelis papua, Peterman Island

Argentine research hut on Petermann Island, Antarctica.
Image ID: 25605
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Peterman Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Cloudy Morning in Paradise Bay, Antarctica
Previous: Lemaire Channel, Antarctica
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

Antarctica, Southern Ocean

Soon after leaving Port Lockroy in our wake, we arrive at the famous Lemaire Channel, noted for its narrow confines and spectacular cliffs rising on each side. About six miles long, the LeMaire Channel takes about one hour to navigate (depending on how much ice is in the channel). Conditions were – surprise! – very cloudy for our passage through the strait. It was nevertheless beautiful, with several sections filled with brash ice and small bergs. We did get a partial sense of the heights and dramatic peaks that rise almost vertically from the edges of the narrow strait but we clearly could not see all the walls and peaks the we knew were hanging above us in the mist. I’ll just have to cross my fingers that it is clear and sunny on my next visit, so I can really appreciate the LeMaire Channel.

Lemaire Channel: mountains, sea, ice and clouds,Antarctica.  The Lemaire Channel, one of the most scenic places on the Antarctic Peninsula, is a straight 11 km long and only 1.6 km wide at its narrowest point

Lemaire Channel: mountains, sea, ice and clouds,Antarctica. The Lemaire Channel, one of the most scenic places on the Antarctic Peninsula, is a straight 11 km long and only 1.6 km wide at its narrowest point.
Image ID: 25602
Location: Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Lemaire Channel: mountains, sea, ice and clouds,Antarctica.  The Lemaire Channel, one of the most scenic places on the Antarctic Peninsula, is a straight 11 km long and only 1.6 km wide at its narrowest point

Lemaire Channel: mountains, sea, ice and clouds,Antarctica. The Lemaire Channel, one of the most scenic places on the Antarctic Peninsula, is a straight 11 km long and only 1.6 km wide at its narrowest point.
Image ID: 25614
Location: Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Peterman Island, Antarctica
Previous: Port Lockroy, Antarctica
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Port Lockroy, Antarctica

Antarctica, Southern Ocean

Photos of Port Lockroy, Antarctica

It was quite early in the morning that our day began, traveling down the Neumayer Channel to tiny Goudier Island on which the Port Lockeroy base resides. The skies were heavily overcast, so we did not have an opportunity to see the magnificent surroundings that the Neumayer Channel is reputed to offer. (It looks like the weather will remain poor, so our chance to see the Lemaire Channel in all its glory later today is not looking good either.) Port Lockroy is a “living museum”, a former British base, once abandoned but restored in the 90’s by volunteers of the British Antarctic Survey and now tended by four keepers for this season. Port Lockroy offers a look back at what conditions were like for the Brits who manned this small building during World War II. It has never been revealed by the British Government exactly what they were doing on this tiny island during the war, but it is suspected that they were collecting weather data and making foreys through the area looking for enemy naval activity. I bought the girls a few souvenirs at the small gift shop and relaxed watching the penguins on their nests just a few feet from the small buildings that make up Port Lockroy.

Blue whale skeleton in Antarctica, on the shore at Port Lockroy, Antarctica.  This skeleton is composed primarily of blue whale bones, but there are believed to be bones of other baleen whales included in the skeleton as well, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale skeleton in Antarctica, on the shore at Port Lockroy, Antarctica. This skeleton is composed primarily of blue whale bones, but there are believed to be bones of other baleen whales included in the skeleton as well.
Image ID: 25604
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Nearby is another tiny island — Wiencke Island — that we visit to see an old blue whale skeleton, surrounding by yet more penguin colonies. Actually, the skeleton is made up of bones of a number of whale species, including blue whales. Having seen many blue whales near San Diego from my boat, it was nice to walk about this skeleton and admire how large the bones are, especially the jaw bones which, I believe, are the largest bones in the entire animal kingdom. A few penguins walked idly through the assembled skeleton. Winds blew pretty hard and a little rain fell. This particular landing had more penguin aroma than any other in the past several days, and by the time I am done on Wiencke Island my boots were pretty nasty and needed a real cleaning in the ocean before I was able to hop aboard the zodiac for a ride back to the big boat.

Blue whale skeleton in Antarctica, on the shore at Port Lockroy, Antarctica.  This skeleton is composed primarily of blue whale bones, but there are believed to be bones of other baleen whales included in the skeleton as well, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale skeleton in Antarctica, on the shore at Port Lockroy, Antarctica. This skeleton is composed primarily of blue whale bones, but there are believed to be bones of other baleen whales included in the skeleton as well.
Image ID: 25631
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Lemaire Channel, Antarctica
Previous: Cuverville Island, Antarctica
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Cuverville Island, Antarctica

Antarctica, Penguin, Southern Ocean

Photos of Gentoo Penguins on Cuverville Island, Antarctica

Gentoo penguin tending to its two chicks.  The nest is made of small stones, Pygoscelis papua, Cuverville Island

Gentoo penguin tending to its two chicks. The nest is made of small stones.
Image ID: 25551
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

We are gradually working our way south along the western flanks of the Antarctica Peninsula. This afternoon we reach Cuverville Island after a 60 mile transit through the Gerlache Straight from our morning’s visit to Cierva Cove. Cuverville Island hosts a colony of Gentoo Penguins (Pygoscelis papua) and our timing coincides with the Gentoos’ rearing of their chicks. Gentoo nests are made of small stones, and the adults will frequently (almost constantly) steal stones from one another’s nests. It is a humorous situation to watch but I realize the incessent watchfulness and robbery required of their species’ lifestyle must be tiresome for these small kleptomaniacs. Watching the chicks as they are tended by their parents is the highlight of my time on Cuverville Island. They are so tiny and yet incredibly hardy to survive in such bitterly cold and windy surroundings. A Gentoo penguin chick’s home is literally a small shallow ring of stones built on bare rock, exposed to harsh wind, rain, snow and mist from the nearby ocean, with only the bulk and warmth of its parent penguin to offer any meaningful protection from the elements. Brown skuas are constantly present nearby, awaiting an opportunity to swoop in quickly and attack an unprotected penguin chick. Life is difficult here.

Gentoo penguin colony, Cuverville Island, Pygoscelis papua

Gentoo penguin colony, Cuverville Island.
Image ID: 25533
Species: Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua
Location: Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Port Lockroy, Antarctica
Previous: Cierva Cove, Antarctica
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Cierva Cove, Antarctica

Antarctica, Humpback Whale, Southern Ocean

Photos of Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

We begin our morning today in Cierva Cove, directly south from yesterday’s landing at Bailey Head on Deception Island. Cierva Cove is said to be a good location to see marine mammals. However, this morning the skies are dark and the air is cold. Cierva Cove is choked with brash ice, and light rain has been falling on and off all morning. Some choose to remain aboard the Polar Star as it is anchored just offshore of the cove, enjoying coffee in the warm lounge on the top deck and watching the morning pass through the large windows. Not to be put off by a little weather, most of the folks on board hop in zodiacs and set off for some cruising and sightseeing amid the ice in Cierva Cove.

Brash ice and pack ice in Antarctica.  Brash ices fills the ocean waters of Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula.  The ice is a mix of sea ice that has floated near shore on the tide and chunks of ice that have fallen into the water from nearby land-bound glaciers

Brash ice and pack ice in Antarctica. Brash ices fills the ocean waters of Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula. The ice is a mix of sea ice that has floated near shore on the tide and chunks of ice that have fallen into the water from nearby land-bound glaciers.
Image ID: 25531
Location: Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Antarctic icebergs, sculpted by ocean tides into fantastic shapes, Cierva Cove

Antarctic icebergs, sculpted by ocean tides into fantastic shapes.
Image ID: 25502
Location: Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Moving about through the ice maze proves to be a bit difficult in the zodiacs and we take it slow, choosing our route carefully. Currents stir the waters in the cove, and the ice is constantly moving albeit slowly. At times, the narrow channels we use close soon after we pass through so that we cannot return the way we came, so we just proceed onward. It is fun going. There are three species of pinniped to be seen in Cierva Cove: leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx), Weddell seal (Leptonychotes Weddellii) and Crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophagus), and soon we have seen them all. Of the three, the Weddell seals are my favorite, exhibiting beautiful spotted coats more attractive than any other seal species I have seen. It is difficult to keep the cameras dry as rain continues to fall, so I am glad I have weather covers for my gear.

Weddell seal in Antarctica.  The Weddell seal reaches sizes of 3m and 600 kg, and feeds on a variety of fish, krill, squid, cephalopods, crustaceans and penguins, Leptonychotes weddellii, Cierva Cove

Weddell seal in Antarctica. The Weddell seal reaches sizes of 3m and 600 kg, and feeds on a variety of fish, krill, squid, cephalopods, crustaceans and penguins.
Image ID: 25501
Species: Weddell seal, Leptonychotes weddellii
Location: Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

A leopard seal in Antarctica.  The leopard seal is a large predatory seal, up to 1300 lb and 11 ft in length, feeding on krill, squid, fish, various penguin species and other seabirds and occasionally, other pinnipeds, Hydrurga leptonyx, Cierva Cove

A leopard seal in Antarctica. The leopard seal is a large predatory seal, up to 1300 lb and 11 ft in length, feeding on krill, squid, fish, various penguin species and other seabirds and occasionally, other pinnipeds.
Image ID: 25526
Species: Leopard seal, Hydrurga leptonyx
Location: Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Three glaciers flow into Cierva Cove, plowing down from the inland slopes above us with towering walls of ice leading the way. These glaciers shed enormous blocks of blue ice, frozen floating progeny that will soon drift away from the cove and disperse into the ocean. Occasionally we see ice break from the face of the glacier and fall, calving with loud cracking sounds that echo around the cove. When the blocks plunge into the water they create long rolling swells that generate low rumbling sounds as the bergs around us bump together. Argentina’s Primavera Research Station is located on an exposed rocky peninsula nearby, a group of small red buildings and several radio antennae. Given the weather we have today, the station looks like a very cold workplace indeed.

Primavera Base, (Argentina) on the slopes above Cierva Cove, Antarctica

Primavera Base, (Argentina) on the slopes above Cierva Cove, Antarctica.
Image ID: 25556
Location: Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Zodiac cruising in Antarctica.  Tourists enjoy the pack ice and towering glaciers of Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula

Zodiac cruising in Antarctica. Tourists enjoy the pack ice and towering glaciers of Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Image ID: 25590
Location: Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Eventually we leave the thick brash ice and motor about in the open water a mile or so offshore, in hopes of seeing a whale. Indeed, we soon come across a few minke whales, fast and sleek. They seem inquisitive and swim near our zodiac a few times, then disappear with nary a clue as to where they have gone. Other zodiacs see minkes throughout the morning. Soon a small group of humpback whales are spotted. Doug Cheeseman, who is driving our zodiac this morning, has had years of experience boating near whales and does a great job of predicting where the humpbacks will surface. For 30 minutes or so the whales simply surface and sink back under. Eventually, however, they begin raising their flukes as they dive, providing the photographers on our inflatable with great ops. After watching the whales for a long time, everyone on the zodiac is eventually chilled to the core and we head back to the M/V Polar Star to warm up and move to the afternoon’s landing at Cuverville Island. This morning offered our best views of marine mammals on the trip so far.

Southern humpback whale in Antarctica, lifting its fluke (tail) before diving in Cierva Cove, Antarctica, Megaptera novaeangliae

Southern humpback whale in Antarctica, lifting its fluke (tail) before diving in Cierva Cove, Antarctica.
Image ID: 25518
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Cierva Cove, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Next: Cuverville Island, Antarctica
Previous: Bailey Head, Deception Island, Antarctica
Trip Index: Cheesemans Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia
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Bailey Head, Deception Island, Antarctica

Antarctica, Penguin, Southern Ocean

Bailey Head, Deception Island, Antarctic Peninsula

Chinstrap penguins at Bailey Head, Deception Island.  Chinstrap penguins enter and exit the surf on the black sand beach at Bailey Head on Deception Island.  Bailey Head is home to one of the largest colonies of chinstrap penguins in the world, Pygoscelis antarcticus

Chinstrap penguins at Bailey Head, Deception Island. Chinstrap penguins enter and exit the surf on the black sand beach at Bailey Head on Deception Island. Bailey Head is home to one of the largest colonies of chinstrap penguins in the world.
Image ID: 25455
Species: Chinstrap Penguin, Pygoscelis antarcticus
Location: Deception Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

The forecast for this morning was not encouraging: winds up to 35 knots which would generate waves large enough to shut down our ability to land on this steep, exposed, black-sand beach. However, at 6am we found relatively calm seas and little wind at Deception Island, with a smallish swell that caused a little anxiety and some minor mishaps with the zodiacs due to the very steep beach but was not enough to keep us from landing ashore. Bailey Head is a large volcanic plug towering over a long, beautiful black sand beach. Cliffs run the length of the beach. Penguins occupy the edge of the beach for several hundred yards, a mass of black-and-white specks on a black expanse of sand. Seemingly endless columns of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) waddle back and forth between the beach and the rim of the volcano that comprises the island.

Sunrise in the South Shetland Islands, near Deception Island

Sunrise in the South Shetland Islands, near Deception Island.
Image ID: 25459
Location: Deception Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

Distant icebergs, mountains, clouds, ocean at dawn, in the South Shetland Islands, near Deception Island

Distant icebergs, mountains, clouds, ocean at dawn, in the South Shetland Islands, near Deception Island.
Image ID: 25460
Location: Deception Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

On the beach, chinstraps nervously gather together waiting for a moment when they can rush en masse down the slope to plunge into the water, swimming rapidly through the shallows to avoid a leopard seal that patrols the shore. What I am seeing is a fascinating spectacle. The sheer number of chinstrap penguins and the constant flow of animals between the heights above and the surf below is impressive. Light rain and some wind comes and goes during our four hours ashore. The light is flat, making for difficult photography. I shoot a few time lapse series, hoping to illustrate the nature of the movement of the many penguins, but it is not easy since we are constrained from going up on the hills above the penguin highway for a better look for fear of displacing the animals from their route. I also shoot some video which will probably be more appealing than the photos, since the video captures the cacophony of the birds and the sounds of the surf. By 11am I am back in a zodiac headed for the boat. I skipped the novelty visit to the hot springs after lunch due to the declining weather. Instead, we watched the hardier folks swimming in the mix of hot springs and icy ocean water, under falling snow and blowing wind. Hard core.

Chinstrap penguins at Bailey Head, Deception Island.  Chinstrap penguins enter and exit the surf on the black sand beach at Bailey Head on Deception Island.  Bailey Head is home to one of the largest colonies of chinstrap penguins in the world, Pygoscelis antarcticus

Chinstrap penguins at Bailey Head, Deception Island. Chinstrap penguins enter and exit the surf on the black sand beach at Bailey Head on Deception Island. Bailey Head is home to one of the largest colonies of chinstrap penguins in the world.
Image ID: 25456
Species: Chinstrap Penguin, Pygoscelis antarcticus
Location: Deception Island, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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