Jan 03, 2018 - National Geographic Orion
We spent the night with the ship wedged into the fast ice, south of the Antarctic circle. Over 500 meters of water lay below the ship. There was no wind, and we woke to the unique stillness of a clear day in the most southerly part of the planet. The morning’s plan included walks across the sea ice and a Zodiac cruise along the ice edge.
Conditions were excellent for those who opted to hike across the ice. Disembarking by Zodiac to the ice edge, we were met with a firm surface after a night of re-freezing. Passing the occasional Adélie penguin or crabeater seal hauled-out under the bright sun, we walked at a distance past large icebergs, precariously held in place by the surrounding frozen sea. After walking for an hour, we spread out and agreed to remain silent for about five minutes. In this remote a place, with no wind, the silence is almost uncomfortable in its intensity at first, though this rapidly becomes a feeling of incredible serenity. We were fortunate to enjoy this rare moment before making our way back to the ship.
Meanwhile, Zodiacs cruised along the ice edge. Some were lucky to glimpse minke whales, others saw the heads of southern elephant seals poking out of the water. All of this served as a prelude to the most exceptional sighting of the morning: not long before we were due to return to the ship, two short dark figures were spotted on the ice, partially concealed by a bank of snow. Closer inspection confirmed suspicions—we had found a pair of molting juvenile emperor penguins. They were quite relaxed, so once a long distance from them was maintained it became possible to bring everyone over in groups to get a look and take some photos of this uncommon sight. In many ways, it is these moments, the unpredictable ones, that make trips like this. The Polar Regions are home to many wonders, and not least of all are those that cannot be foreseen.
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