South Shetland Islands

Jan 29, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

This morning, our second day at sea, we didn’t know that we were in for an amazing day full of fantastic sightings and adventures. We left behind a rather calm Drake Passage—Drake lake—and arrived at the South Shetland Islands, preparing to make the first landing of our expedition at Half Moon Island. We were briefed on the decontamination procedure for approaching A57a, a huge tabular iceberg: cleaning backpacks, camera bags, boots, and walking sticks.

But the procedure was paused when humpback and killer whales were spotted in front of A57a.

After watching the whales, we headed back to Half Moon Island, but the weather conditions had deteriorated significantly and a landing wasn’t possible. But of course, the team came up with an excellent plan B: False Bay, named for its similarity to the nearby South Bay, for which it is easily mistaken.

We really went into expedition mode—even our captain hadn’t been to False Bay before. After we maneuvered safely into the bay, we went out for Zodiac cruises—and were surprised yet again. With beautiful glaciers surrounding us, we spotted about 20 leopard seals resting on sheets of floating ice! Some of the leopard seals looked as if they’d just hunted penguins, and they were accompanied by skuas looking for leftovers.

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About the Author

Hannah Kriesell


Having a great interest in science and love for nature, Hannah started travelling at an early age and engaged in work supporting local science projects and nature conservation efforts, such as being a ranger in South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park, a volunteer in a wildlife rescue station in Ecuador, and monitoring the desert elephant population in Namibia. Her experiences during those trips led her to do a bachelor’s degree in biology in Germany and a master’s degree in international nature conservation in New Zealand. She studied insect species in Malaysia and New Zealand, whales and dolphins in Namibia and Australia, and endangered birds in Tahiti. Driven by her curiosity and her desire to explore, she did her Ph.D. on king penguins. Spending a total of 8 months amongst thousands of king penguins on Possession Island, Crozet Archipelago, she studied the mate choice behavior and communication in this fascinating seabird while also learning about the other 26 bird species inhabiting this beautiful and remote island. Together with renowned experts, she published an assessment of the biodiversity conservation efforts in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and actions that can be taken to preserve those pristine environments.

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