Devil Island, Weddell Sea

Dec 01, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer


Sunrise came early in the Weddell Sea—at 02:51, according to the bridge. Not many souls were awake to see it, but the sky was clear and the sun painted the snow-covered mountains around us in pastel pinks and subdued reds. What a glorious, if not painfully early, way to start our expedition here on the eastern side of the peninsula!

Our first attempted landing was at Devil Island, cradled on the northern shore of much larger Vega Island. Devil is home to a large Adélie penguin colony and we were looking forward to being among these tuxedo-clad birds. And then the wind came…in force. Gale force, actually. Our plans quickly evolved and we decided to heave up anchor and sail farther south into the Weddell Sea toward Snow Hill Island.

It was the perfect opportunity for penguinologists Tom Hart and Fiona Jones to tell us about the latest penguin research happening here in Antarctica. Tom and Fiona represent an organization called Penguin Watch and have been working for many years in the field, literally camping among their study subjects! Lucky for them (and us) their scheduled transportation plans fell through and they decided to “hitchhike” for two days as we delivered them to their next research site on Rongé Island.

Our afternoon could only be described as sublime. Deep in the Weddell Sea, surrounded by huge tabular icebergs, glacial ice, and sea ice, we cruised through the brash looking for wildlife. Most of us were treated to views of emperor penguins either on the ice or swimming in crystal clear water. We also spotted snow petrels and Adélie penguins. There was a breeding colony of emperor penguins on Snow Hill Island, and the individuals we saw were most likely from that colony, now abandoned as all the chicks have fledged.

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About the Author

Michael Nolan

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Michael Nolan was born in Bitburg, Germany to an Air Force family stationed there. His first experience of the ocean came at age 12, when he learned to snorkel in the Italian Mediterranean. At age 17 he moved to Tucson, Arizona and became a PADI SCUBA instructor, before starting a SCUBA diving business that specialized in diving trips to the Sea of Cortez.

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