Dec 12, 2017 - National Geographic Explorer
It’s great to start the day with a hike. We had an early arrival to Danco Island this morning, and despite heavy snow we welcomed over 90 hikers ashore for some time in the gentoo penguin colony and a walk up to Danco’s famous 360-degree view.
This island sits in the southern end of the Errera Channel, and our trail wandered up through some groups of gentoo nests, complete with many, very well-worn penguin highways. At this point in the season, the birds are incubating their eggs. The males and females take turns with incubation, and the colony is fairly quiet with birds coming and going. A constant gentoo activity is—of course—rock stealing!
Those guests who made it to the top were rewarded by a great view, but there are many beautiful things to see all the way up. Today, as an extra bonus, we spotted killer whales! They were first spotted from shore, and luckily our Zodiac cruisers were able to get a great look at some bulls, females, and calves. It was a lovely site for those of us higher up the hill and certainly a thrill for those who saw the whales at water level. These were little B type whales, and we’ve sent photos to our research colleagues to see if we can get some specific IDs.
After a few hours of navigation past ice and glaciers, we had a rare opportunity to visit the United States Antarctic Program’s Palmer Station. We have three staff and crew on board who used to work at Palmer, so it was a chance to learn more about their experience and to imagine for ourselves a life in Antarctica.
Staff from the station guided small groups around and talked about everything from atmospheric science to aquaria. There are many projects underway here from baseline biological measurements to experiments involving zooplankton, bacteria, and krill.
Life on the base was of particular interest. In the summer, the station accommodates about 40 people, which is split between scientists and support staff. They have a gym, lounge, bar, spacious galley (including a wood stove), and a suite of outdoor gear to go and play in the “backyard.” Palmer Station residents have a sanctioned glacier zone, a couple of camping areas, and a permitted radius around the station for boating.
It’s hard to know which some of us liked better, the gift shop or the brownies.
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