From the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica
Dec 24, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer
Lemaire Channel and Penola Strait, Antarctica
Ice defines Antarctica. Without ice what would this continent be? And yet the day started with wildlife and a gentle call from Lisa on the bridge at 04:15 in the morning to say that killer whales had been seen. Those keen made their sleepy way out on deck to view a very large pod of them, while others rolled over and stayed in bed until the second wakeup call a bit later at 06:15 urged everyone out to see the sunshine illuminating the narrow gap of the Lemaire Channel. This channel that separates the mainland from Booth Island is only 7 miles long and .5 miles wide, and is a scenic splendor. The sun was shining and the mountains glittered with ice like frosting on a cake, and we ate the landscape up with our eyes and hearts. South of the channel the captain turned the ship to the west and we entered a bay chocked full of icebergs. Pleneau Bay provided the bridge with some tricky nautical challenges and we zig-zagged our way between massive bergs.
A landing on Pleneau Island was offered after breakfast, with half the guests going to shore to enjoy the gentoo penguins, and the other half going for a Zodiac cruise among the icebergs, before the two halves switched sides. Minke whales were seen and a leopard seal for a few lucky ones. Ice was admired by all in its many varied formations, and once again there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that ice is the ultimately defining feature of Antarctica.
After lunch Petermann Island presented itself in full splendor and everyone had a choice of going to shore for a landing or going on a Zodiac cruise. On shore, gentoo penguins sat patiently in the sun on their nests incubating eggs. Adelie penguins further up the hill had small chicks, some very newly hatched, and skuas lurked and flew around eyeing them with their greedy small eyes. Poor skuas – they get so much hatred from people when they snatch a small chick away from its penguin parent – but skuas have to eat something too, and survive. So a bit of an exciting life and death drama took place in front of us. Some guests saw the happy story – the skua unable to grab a chick or egg. But was this a happy story for the skua? Some guests saw the sad story – a successful poaching of a small adelie penguin chick that the skus flew away with to eat at leisure. Either story you saw, the weather could not have been nicer, the landscape could not have been more beautiful, the calm and still conditions, the icebergs in the bay below us, the penguins and flying birds going about their daily lives, all added to a most magnificent experience that could be rivaled by nothing.