Dec 10, 2017 - National Geographic Explorer
We had just a few more things to do to prepare for our arrival in Antarctica and this morning, we ensured that everyone was on the same page about the IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) guidelines for safe and sustainable visits to the seventh continent. Just after the IAATO briefing, all guests and new crew joined us in the mudroom for a full biosecurity decontamination. All outer gear, camera bags, walking sticks and backpacks were inspected by the expedition staff for possible seeds, soil, plants, and any other potential items that could bring introduced species to a rapidly warming and increasingly more inhospitable environment. The individual inspection and cleaning of gear is, perhaps, not the most enjoyable activity but it is one that is vital to the future of this pristine landscape.
Now ready for landing, we approached Robert Island located in the South Shetland Islands, the archipelago first reached after crossing the Drake Passage. Our landing site, Robert Point, is one which few, if any other companies visit and is a spot which few of our incredibly experienced staff have had an opportunity to step foot on. We excitedly disembarked the ship in our Zodiacs for our first glimpses at this rarely seen spot.
Robert Point has a fairly steep and rocky beach with fist-sized rocks. From this beach with its challenging surf, we walked uphill among quite a few southern elephant seals hauled-out for their catastrophic molting period. These young seals lounged lazily making a delightful variety of snorts, belches, and gassy roars, and occasionally scratching at their patchy skin. They yawned and continued resting as we filed past and up the snowy hill on our way to several chinstrap penguin colonies. Southern giant petrels, kelp gulls and brown skuas circled overhead waiting for an opportune moment to swoop in for a chance at an unattended penguin egg.
We observed the penguins returning to their nests to relieve their mate and take their turn incubating the two eggs in a rock ring. As a penguin greeted its mate, it demonstrated its pair bond with waggling neck and ecstatic displays of “caws.” One pair hadn’t seemed to get their timing right and were still busy with the mating phase of the reproductive cycle, providing an excellent opportunity to discuss the mechanics of penguin intercourse.
Those who remained on board learned even more about penguin anatomy, behavior, life cycle, and fun facts through an excellent lecture by our naturalist, Rab Cummings.
We ended our first day in Antarctica with a boisterous and upbeat Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party and introductions in the Lounge before heading to another great meal!
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