Port Lockroy and Useful Island
Early this morning, National Geographic Explorer anchored in Port Lockroy, a natural harbour of Weinke Island. This very protected spot is located between the large Anvers Island and the peninsular mainland. It is truly a beautiful site, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, massive snow fields, and glaciers. The main point of interest here is the restored old British Antarctic Survey hut, located on tiny Goudier Island. It is now a manned visitor’s center and historical museum and a couple of the young caretakers came aboard and gave us some of the station’s history. This place was especially appreciated because it gave us a chance to collect some Antarctic gifts and souvenirs, such as postcards, books, T-shirts, patches, hats, stamps, etc., and it was the only place for us to mail letters and postcards. A long-term study has been going on here at the station to chronicle the effects of human habitation upon gentoo penguins and snowy sheathbills. We’re happy to announce they seem to be doing extremely well around the buildings of the station.
In addition, we were able to go ashore on a rocky outcrop at the northwest end of Weinke Island near Jougla Point. Here, we saw more nesting gentoo penguins and blue-eyed shags, as well as an old ship-based whaling station. Numerous whale bones litter the shore in one area and it was interesting to examine an almost complete skeleton of a great whale…a species known as the “composite whale” (see photo). Actually, it was obvious that this specimen is composed of bones from many different individuals, but it was still fun to learn about the morphology of whales.
Once we departed Port Lockroy, we enjoyed some scenic cruising in the Neumeyer Channel. A “photo alert” announcement was made and pretty soon most everyone was out on deck enjoying the spectacular reflections (see photo). Soon, our vessel made her way back into the Gerlache Strait, a waterway that measures nearly 200 miles and is surrounded by tall, rugged mountains, numerous islands, passes and bays, and countless glaciers. As we traveled northward, we had nice conditions and decided to make a mid-afternoon stop at aptly named Useful Island, which is located in the middle of the Gerlache Strait. It is an important nesting site for both gentoo and chinstrap penguins, and once ashore, we were amazed at the mess the gentoo penguins had made of the low snow bank near our landing.
Some of the more adventurous among us managed to make the difficult climb over slippery boulders and broken rocks to the very top of the island where we were rewarded with some spectacular views of the surrounding waters and icebergs. It was amazing to find penguins nesting right up at the very top. While some people were ashore, others enjoyed a Zodiac cruise along the rocky shoreline and out to some nearby impressive icebergs. The rest of the evening was spent cruising through the Gerlache Strait, until we cut through Dallmann Bay (between Anvers Island and Brabant Island) and made our way into the Drake Passage to begin our return trip to Ushuaia.