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!