From the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica
Jan 30, 2013 - National Geographic Explorer
South Shetland Islands
Our second day of crossing the Drake would be similar in sea conditions to the first. Large swells topped with wind waves that pushed National Geographic Explorer further south at a good rate of speed. We had crossed the Drake quickly enough that the outer islands of the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetlands were visible on the horizon at breakfast. These volcanic islands contain some of the youngest rocks of the whole continent. They only formed a few million years ago, well after the Antarctic Peninsula and the tip of South America broke apart.
Our plan was to visit one of the islands named Penguin Island. We had spent the morning maneuvering our way towards Penguin Island in a stiff breeze. Before lunch we received our Antarctic briefing with information about proper dress and etiquette while visiting the land on our expedition. After lunch the staff headed over to the cobbly beach to check out the landing. From the ship we could see and hear chinstrap penguins, Antarctic fur seals, and other animals. These islands are also home to the best examples of the forests of Antarctica: the mosses, lichens, and small plants that inhabit these windswept islands just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The wind began to increase and the decision was made that this landing would not be a safe or enjoyable one given the conditions. Large wind waves were forming around the anchored ship and loading of the Zodiacs would be challenging.
Once the staff was back aboard the captain took the ship from the South Shetlands and across the Bransfield Strait. We encountered a breaching humpback whale along our path. It is always an interesting sight when huge marine mammals do their equivalent of our cannonball dives. Science has not been able to give an exact reason for this behavior. Later we began to see the large tabular icebergs that are produced from the Weddell Sea, but that is tomorrow’s adventure.