After a calm night spent in a sheltered harbor on the coast of Coronation Island, we awoke to the sound of the ship weighing anchor. We made our way past towering icebergs and tidewater glaciers during breakfast to Robertson Island for our final morning in the South Orkneys. Robertson Island, just south of 60 degrees, is home to a colony of chinstrap penguins. Like so many of the remote places we venture, humans rarely visit it.
Calm seas made it a perfect morning to land and hike to see the colony up close. Though not quite in the league of the macaroni penguins, chinstraps are accomplished climbers by the standards of the penguin world. The main colony was located on a ridge a couple of hundred feet above sea level, but some pairs were perched high up on boulder-strewn slopes so steep that most of us wouldn’t attempt it without rock climbing gear. Why a penguin would waddle and hop so far up such a steep slope is a mystery, when seemingly great places to lay an egg were much more accessible and remained unoccupied.
While some guests went ashore, others cruised near the shore in Zodiacs where they encountered our expedition divers calmly dropping into waters that hovered slightly below freezing. Jan Schmid, who made his first ever polar dive today, offered lessons in German, exclaiming “Mich friert es im Gesicht.”
The march of seasons may have been lost on anyone who ventured into the water, but it was clear that Spring was further along here than on the Antarctic Peninsula. Male fur seals were already staking out their territories in anticipation of the impending breeding season, while penguins were incubating eggs and keeping an eye on the skuas.