South Shetland Islands

Dec 16, 2017 - National Geographic Orion

After our morning sailing from King George Island we arrived at Barrientos Island for a landing to the chinstrap penguin colony there. It was an easier landing than yesterday evening for sure! The chinstrap colony had, as so often seems the case, been infiltrated by several gentoos either needing a break from their kin or confused as to what penguin they actually are.

Barrientos Island itself is a small island with gently sloping hills. The majority of its coastline being rather uninviting cliffs or rocky outcrops being washed regularly by the motion of the ocean. The flow we sailed into was surrounded by more dramatic cliffs, sea stacks and enormous glaciers and it really was a very dramatic place with the full force of the ocean and freezing winters being very clearly evident. While most of the ship went ashore, the dive team went for a dive off of one of the rock outcrops. The site had a steep drop off and so was likely to be a spot offering some protection to the marine life from icebergs; icebergs large enough to scrape along the bottom of the seabed and leave a trail of destruction in their wake so any animal life which takes a long time to grow and develop will likely be crushed before they can really colonize a spot. The dive site started with a very dense growth of kelp and then around 15m when light reaching the seabed had dropped, this was taken over by another kelp species of the macrocystic family. In this kelp there were lots of invertebrates and small fish using the kelp as a shelter.

After the dive and landings we went on a short Zodiac cruise around the island and found some elephant seals and weddel seals before returning to the ship. Our evening was then finished off with a show from the crew - very entertaining and a lot of great talent!

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About the Author

Peter Webster

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

Born in Scotland, Peter became fascinated with nature and wildlife from a very young age. This early interest led to him earning a degree in conservation biology followed shortly after by an M.Sc in marine and fisheries ecology. He is currently studying for another M.Sc in digital mapping. After working as a commercial diver for several years Peter was offered the position of Field Diving Officer with the British Antarctic Survey in 2012. He then spent the next 16 months in the Antarctic, stationed at Rothera Research Station, on the peninsula where he managed the dive operations and a team of scientific divers working on a wide range of research on climate change, ocean acidification, and increased seabed disturbance by icebergs. As well as diving Peter also spent several months in the Antarctic deep field working in aircraft operations, depot laying, and meteorological work whilst living in tents in conditions below -30oC. 

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