Cuverville Island and Danco Island

Dec 22, 2018 - National Geographic Orion


It is not often that being awake before 6 a.m. is looked upon as a good thing, but this morning was an exception. The reason for such an early rising was not for a sick child or a toaster setting off the smoke detector—this morning it was because just ahead of our ship there was a pair of humpback whales lunge feeding at the surface. Over and over again, the two whales exploded to the surface with mouths agape, as they swallowed huge amounts of the diet of everything here in Antarctica, which is krill. Then, with flukes waving in the air as they sounded for another helping, they would disappear into the cold depths. Then it was time for our breakfast, albeit with slightly less open mouths.

Then it was time for our first excursion for the morning, a landing on the island of Cuverville. Here we were told we would encounter a couple of colonies of gentoo penguins. Now as is often the case, one needs to be flexible as things here in Antarctica have a way of changing at a moment’s notice. This time, however, it would not be the timing of our disembarkation from the ship or a different destination than we expected. This time as we arrived ashore, we discovered a young elephant seal sleeping on the snow. As we piled our life jackets into the barrels provided, the young seal became more and more interested in our activity and slowly inched its way closer and closer to our bright orange life jackets until finally reaching the barrels and captivating our interest. At first, the life jackets were piled into the barrels, but the seal would have none of this. Life jackets are much more colorful, as it turns out, spread out in the snow where a nap could be had on them! For the entire length of our landing the young seal laid claim to our lifejackets and its antics were the star attraction for most of us onshore. Oh! Were we supposed to look at penguins?

Then it was time for lunch, and many were wondering how it could only be lunchtime? So much had already happened it seemed like a full day had passed. With bellies full, it was time for our afternoon excursion to Danco Island. Here again were colonies of gentoo penguins, and this time we actually got to visit them. We also got to go out in the Zodiacs for a cruise around Errera Channel. The channel was full of spectacular icebergs, a couple of haul-out sites for Weddell seals and large rafts of feeding gentoos. As we motored around the penguins porpoised in the rear of our boats, more reminiscent of dolphins in our wake then penguins. What the penguins were thinking, we don’t know, but to us, it was a pure expression of joy.

It was a full day but well worth the effort. Finally, we had dinner and a well-deserved rest for the evening, or so we thought. It was announced that after dinner we would be visiting one more visitation site, Neko Harbour. Here again were colonies of gentoo penguins along with spectacular views. Then, after what seemed to be two days’ worth of exploration, our beds beckoned us to sleep. Who said it was a vacation?

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About the Author

Steve Morello

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Steve Morello has had a long and colorful career in the natural history world. Born in New Jersey he was lucky to be able to summer on the shores of Cape Cod. Whether it was exploring the tidal pools, snorkeling along the beach, or hiking in the dunes, it all came together to instill in him a deep connection to the natural world. It was no surprise that he would return to the Cape as a whale researcher in his adult years. It was on the Cape that Steve first became involved in guiding, and for 15 years acted as naturalist on whale watching boats in the Gulf of Maine. Steve worked with groups creating environmental education material for school programs and soon found another one of his passions, photography.

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