Brown Bluff and Antarctic Sound

Nov 22, 2017 - National Geographic Orion


Today was a monumental day - we officially landed on the Antarctic continent. Of course, we have been traveling in the Southern Ocean since we left the Falklands, and we’ve visited islands that are considered to be part of Antarctica. But today, for the first time, we set foot on the continent itself.  And what a spectacular introduction it was! Brown Bluff, our destination on the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, is a beautiful landing under a towering bluff that looks out across Antarctic Sound. It is home to nesting Gentoo penguins, snow petrels and kelp gulls. Undoubtedly, though, it was the resident Adelie penguins that charmed us the most. A few of us had seen a single wayward Adelie two days earlier on Coronation Island, but here there were thousands – tens of thousands – of them. Most of these truly Antarctic birds were sitting on nests made of pebbles, set just far enough apart so that each bird was out of beak-reach from its stone-stealing neighbor, yet close enough to provide protection from invading skuas. Others ambled their way towards the beach, occasionally slipping on the ice only to stoically pick themselves back up. Once on the edge of the shore, they nervously watched the waves for marauding leopard seals until a few, hungry for krill, finally mustered up the courage to plunge in – at which point they all joined suit and darted for the safety of deeper water. We could have watched these endearing penguins all day, but lunch soon called and so did more adventures.

In the afternoon, we cruised deeper into Antarctic Sound in search of fast ice. Our hope was to find sufficient ice to allow the ship to pull up and lower the gangway so we could get out and stretch our legs. However, as we were cruising it became apparent that the ice was shifting in such a way that it could make our passage back out of the sound difficult, so we turned the ship around and headed back north. To our delight, this brought us past many magnificent tabular icebergs. These immense icebergs with ribbons of sapphire blue towered high above the water. It was hard to fathom just how big they were – harder still when we realized that nearly 80% was hidden below the water! Until today, this scenery, so unique to Antarctica, lived only in our imaginations but now was something that we’d remember forever.

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About the Author

Andy Szabo

Naturalist

Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Andy moved from the whale-impoverished shores of Lake Ontario to the west coast of British Columbia to pursue his passion for marine mammals and marine biology.  Andy received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Victoria, and was subsequently awarded his doctorate through the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University.  His graduate work focused on the maternal behavior and foraging ecology of Southeast Alaskan humpback whales; however, he has also participated in studies focused on other marine mammals, including blue, fin, grey, sperm and killer whales.

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