Snow Hill Island, Antarctica

Dec 01, 2018 - National Geographic Orion


Today we had quite an unusual day, and believe it or not, it started exactly at midnight! Some people might argue that the day before never ended, and that today’s experiences were simply a continuation of events that started the day before and lasted well over the 24 hours that a normal day will have. This would not be unusual in Antarctica, as the daylight doesn’t really disappear during the polar nights. This fact worked to our advantage this evening, as by midnight, several people were at the ship’s bridge: the captain himself, guests, officers, expedition leader, naturalists and several of the crew were all well awake, experiencing one of the less-seen landscapes in Antarctica, the Weddell Sea, right off the eastern side of Snow Hill Island.

Last night (just a few hours ago), the decision was made to work our way as far as the sea-ice would allow us to travel within reasonably safe limitations of wind and ice conditions in the region. The Weddell Sea rarely opens up for anyone, let alone all the way down to the most northerly colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica, precisely our destination!

As we traveled the calm and mirror-like waters of the Weddell Sea, the reflection of the ship’s shadow over giant icebergs produced a sunset that, in this latitude, lasted forever! Our count of emperor penguins continued to increase as we traveled to the furthest point south that National Geographic Orion has ever traveled in these waters! We even sighted, a few more times, a couple of killer whales in the distance, breaking the white patterning of the ice with their giant black bodies and large dorsal fins sticking high above the water.

By 1:30 a.m., we reached the desired latitude and had on sight our possible landing for the morning. Unfortunately, just as we were savoring the possibility of an early riser’s wake-up call for a hike, the captain noticed a sudden change on the massive ice movement ahead of us, which created the possibility of trapping the ship within the sea ice. With this impending possibility, we decided to play it safe and start our navigation north, pretty much retracing our trail to safer open waters.

Even without the landing, National Geographic Orion and her guests on board achieved a huge milestone for the ship, as we have never been able to reach this latitude before, and the count of emperor penguins by the end of the night was well over 40+ sightings.

The early hours of the morning found us off the northeastern coast of Snow Hill Island, as our intentions were to Zodiac cruise and kayak among the ice with potential encounters with emperor penguins! We indeed got very close to emperor penguins just standing on the ice floes, which again, has never been done before with our ship! In addition, Adelie and gentoo penguins were also found scattered around the ice, as well as a couple of species of seals resting on small icebergs. After such an exciting morning, we returned to the ship and fulfilled the dream of many guests coming to this part of the world, as we offered the opportunity to do a polar plunge in the frigid waters of Antarctica! As we sailed north towards the body of water known as Antarctic Sound, lots of seabirds were observed along the way, and particularly flocks of snow petrels which are considered among the rarest birds in the world. 

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About the Author

Javier Cotin

Naturalist

Javier 's passion for birds and nature began as a child exploring the Pyrenees mountains with his father. The mystery that surrounds the Lammergeier silhouette triggered his curiosity and interest towards wildlife. 

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