Cuverville Island and Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Jan 11, 2018 - National Geographic Orion


The gentle gentoo’s call echoes through our minds. It could be considered the music of the day for it swirled about us on shore morning and afternoon. But now, at the end of the day, maybe what we desire to wrap ourselves in is the sound of silence for only it can express the vastness of the place we find ourselves in.

Light and shadows danced on white peaks and flanks of impressive mountains as fingers of fog crept into valleys and darkened following seas. Puffy clouds ornamented the sky while Icebergs were sculptures in the alleyway between islands. Early risers barely had an instant to gasp at the grandeur before the waters exploded with life. Killer whales! Humpback whales! No matter which direction we faced were blows and backs. Huge six foot tall dorsal fins of two male Orcinus orca rose and fell as they headed north in the Gerlache Strait but the younger members of the crowd rolled and bobbed presumably playfully at our side while older individuals moved nearby in groups of three or five. The humpbacks too seemed to be everywhere purposefully travelling or feeding, periodically raising their tail flukes as they dove deeper beneath the surface.

On shore both on tiny Cuverville Island and along the rocky edges of nearby Neko Harbour, a new generation was being tenderly cared for. Gentoo parents sat on pebble mounds, their eggs or very tiny progeny tucked within a warm brood patch low on their bellies. Periodically a partner returned from the sea and they both brayed boisterously before trading positions on the nest. Tiny little heads waved from side to side reaching toward their parent’s beak for a bolus of sustenance. Meow like calls warned of aerial predator attacks from brown skuas and kelp gulls as they searched for nutritious meals for their own fluffy chicks. Both locations too offered the opportunity to climb above the colonies to look far off and listen to the sound of glaciers calving. Crabeater seals lazed on floes that slowly drifted by.

Was this really our first full day in Antarctic? We transition easily to shore via Zodiac having learned the skill with little practice. We have slowed our pace and are content to sit or stand, to wait and watch. The curiosity of childhood is creeping back into our lives and we await the gift of tomorrow as we continue further south.

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About the Author

Karen Copeland

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Born and raised in Canada, Karen received her B.Sc. in biology from the University of Waterloo, her M.D. from the University of Western Ontario and interned at McMaster University in Hamilton. Detouring from hospital hallways, Karen soon became a whitewater guide and published photographer, fulfilling a passion for knowledge that began with botany and led to geology and ornithology.

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