Elephant Island

Jan 20, 2020 - National Geographic Explorer

This morning, National Geographic Explorer finished the crossing of the Drake Passage with clear skies. There was a fascinating presentation, “What Ice Cores Tell Us about the Changing Environment,” by Global Perspectives guest speaker Joe McConnell, who told us how, why, and where scientists drill and study ice cores. In the late morning, we approached the remote, majestic Elephant Island, which is a 30-mile-long island made entirely of metamorphic rocks uplifted along an undersea fault. The ship anchored at Point Wild under clear blue skies.

As we lunched, the weather changed dramatically, and it began snowing! We had our first expedition activity in the afternoon, when we went on Zodiac tours around Point Wild. This point is one of the most historic sites in Antarctica, since it was the location that Shackleton left 22 men to survive on a rock for four months while he went to get help 1,000 miles away on South Georgia Island. It was sensory overload, seeing thousands of chinstrap penguins sitting on their nests in their rookeries on steep rocks. There were also many penguins porpoising through the water, going toward and away from the nesting areas. We all saw numerous fur seals on land, and some guests saw a huge elephant seal in the water.

In the background of all this wildlife were white and blue glaciers coming down to sea, including one that repeatedly calved when ice pieces broke off with a bang and fell into the sea. Together with the steep mountains of rock towering above us, it made for a perfect experience.

After the Zodiac activities, we heard naturalist Javier Cotin give a presentation on penguins. Then, we had the Captain’s welcome cocktail party and a delicious dinner, followed by a cloudy sunset. What a perfect day to begin our expedition to the White Continent!

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About the Author

Joe Holliday


Joe Holliday has been a nature fanatic all of his life.  He was raised near the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, where he enjoyed nature while camping with family and the Boy Scouts.  He earned a B.S. in biology at Hamilton College, an M.S. in geology at Oregon State University, and his final degree in education administration from California State University.  For twenty years, Joe has been a geology and oceanography professor at El Camino College in Torrance, California.  He has been the director of the honors program there for several years as well.  However, the best part of this job is leading week-long geology trips to the mountains and national parks of southwest United States.

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