Vernadsky Station & Yalour Islands

Feb 04, 2020 - National Geographic Orion


This morning arrived with a last-minute invite from our Ukrainian colleagues to visit their home at Vernadsky Station, tour the base and see a brief glimpse of what living in Antarctica is like for those here year-round. The site was originally established as a British station in 1954. Dubbed Station F, the Faraday Station was eventually sold to Ukraine for the symbolic price of one pound sterling in 1996, and it remains (though known now as Vernadsky) the oldest functioning station along the Antarctic Peninsula. The team of 12 at the base welcomed us ashore for a tour including the living areas, science labs and, of course, the infamous Faraday Bar. Notable among the team were the first female wintering members, until now all winterers on the base had been males.

Increasingly, Gentoo penguins have also realized the perks of the location, and whereas historically a few birds nested there, now the aroma from the colony welcomes both guests and residents to the island and its buildings. But it’s hard to hold it against the furry penguins with their fluffy young chicks – some continuing to feed regurgitated meals from their parents while others braved the cold waters for the first time.

The afternoon brought blue skies and sunshine, blubbered and feathered fauna, and there was really no lasting reason to stay onboard today. Coming ashore at the Yalour Islands, our senses were once again piqued by the Eau de Colonie Pingouin as we walked among the colonies, the adults ambling to and from the ocean, the chicks nested comfortably atop cleared rocky substrates – a definite treat for all. And to top it off, our first quality humpback whale and Antarctic fur seal sightings of the trip. It just keeps getting better.

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About the Author

Gail Ashton

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

With a bachelor’s degree from Wales and a Ph.D. from Scotland, Gail has used her skills in marine biology to pursue her passion: investigating marine biodiversity all over the world. As a research scientist based in San Francisco, she has led projects in coastal marine communities from Alaska to Panama. A cold-water diver at heart, Gail jumped at the opportunity to lead a research project on the impacts of climate change that involved spending two years diving under the ice in Antarctica. Other projects have taken her to Florida, Guam and Indonesia.

About the Photographer

Jonathan Zaccaria

Expedition Leader

At age 24 Jonathan had his first experience in Antarctica as a scientist at the coastal French Dumont d'Urville Station. Located on the windiest place on Earth (regularly around 200km/h, maximum up to 320 km/h), and bounded by sea ice eight months a year, this is the closest station to an Emperor penguin colony, worldwide advertised by the documentary movie The March of the Penguins. During his time there, he was taking measurements of the ozone layer and UV rate.

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