Antarctic Sound

Jan 11, 2020 - National Geographic Explorer


Nothing about Antarctica is predictable or “normal.” Our first landing yesterday was flat and calm, with only a light overcast. This morning was an example of how weather can change rapidly. The morning was all but calm as winds blew across Bransfield Strait. Clouds rolled across the high mountain peaks of the Trinity Peninsula, which marks the end of the mainland Antarctic Peninsula. To the north of Trinity Peninsula were a few large islands that created a wide channel leading to the western side of the Weddell Sea.

Just as breakfast was being served, the ship approached the island of Gourdin. The Captain was able to anchor slightly in the lee of the island, so Zodiac cruises were organized. Slowly moving along the shore, we were able to see large numbers of penguins nesting as high as the top of the island. Along the shore certain spots provided the birds with relatively easy access in and out of the water. Activity was not limited to the land as, in the water and even near the Zodiacs, groups of penguins would move en masse popping out of the water, exhibiting a behavior called “porpoising.”

Many attempts were made by everyone taking photos to get birds as they shot out of the water before returning below the surface waves. A few of the Zodiac groups found leopard seals patrolling the coastline looking for unsuspecting penguins. At this time of year, the seals are supplementing their food selection with penguins even though their primary diet is, of course, krill. Most everyone in Antarctica relies on krill.

All returned to the ship, and then continued eastward through Antarctic Sound. Our intentions were to visit Brown Bluff at the tip of the Trinity Peninsula at the northern extremes of the Antarctic Peninsula. Wind from the northeast, however, had blown large amounts of broken glacier ice onto and along the shoreline. So, Zodiac cruising was the alternative—and in the end it was a fantastic option.

The sun shone brightly through the afternoon. Above us were the high colorful cliffs of Brown Bluff where, at the bottom, large masses of mostly Adélie penguins were occupying themselves with nesting. Scattered over the offshore waters were icebergs of all shapes and sizes. A few of the ice “sculptures” were eroded with holes and arches. Some of the penguins found the icebergs convenient locations to rest. Zodiac cruises were once again a great success, with wildlife and landscapes, especially icebergs of various shapes and sizes.

Yet another memorable day—and only the second day in Antarctica.

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About the Author

Bud Lehnhausen

Naturalist

Bud received an undergraduate degree in wildlife biology at Colorado State University. He then immediately went to Alaska where he worked and lived for 30 years. At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Bud studied wildlife biology and received a master's degree conducting research on four species of alcid seabird nesting on a remote island in the Gulf of Alaska.

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