Antarctica Voyage Day 9 – 27 December 2015 – Landing on the Antarctic Peninsula

This morning wake up was an hour early at 6.00 am, as we were due out on the Zodiacs at 7.45 am to visit Paulet Island. However, there was too much ice on the sea to get there. The area was stunning with icebergs the size of islands and huge amounts of ice on the sea.

Instead of landing, we had a group of 6-8 Orca (Killer Whales) which we managed to get close to. Orcas are actually whale killing dolphins. We had the most fantastic views of them for over half an hour. They were in and out of the water in between floating ice, showing their black and white bodies.

Orca

A little later we were getting into Zodiacs and cruising between icebergs. Almost immediately, we were rewarded with close views of two Snow Petrel, flying around in front of a massive iceberg and also over our heads. They were the most beautiful birds and definitely worth waiting for close views.

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig and Chris Craig on a zodiac cruise
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig and Chris Craig on a zodiac cruise
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

Snow Petrel
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Adelie Penguin on ice

In the middle of our zodiac cruise, we met with the other boats and were given cups of hot chocolate, before we continued our wildlife watching.

Back on the boat, we were lucky enough to witness a very rare sight. We watched as a group of about 12-15 Orca harassed a female Humpback Whale, which Jimmy explained was actually trying to drown its calf. The Humpback wasn’t doing anything to stop them, just staying in the area. He wondered whether the mother was staying as part of a mourning process. Jimmy, the nature expert, said that this was a very rare occurrence but they had seen evidence of it on the last three voyages. The first time all that remained was an oil slick with huge numbers of Wilson’s Storm Petrel on the water feeding. This was the first time he had seen the killing in action. Only a couple of people saw the calf, as it was being forced to stay underwater until it drowned. I know it’s nature, but I found it really sad.

In the afternoon, we landed in Brown Bluff, on the mainland Antarctic continent. Landing on islands and cruising close to the mainland shore was fantastic, but there was something very special about actually landing on the Mainland Antarctic Continent. It is something I have really wanted to do since I was 9 years old, my main ambition.

There were 20,000 penguin pairs here, mainly Adelie Penguins which had chicks and Gentoo with eggs. Brown Skuas were here as well trying to get eggs or even chicks.

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

Adelie Penguin colony, Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Adelie Penguin colony, Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Adelie Penguin Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Adelie Penguin Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Adelie Penguin Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Adelie Penguin Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Adelie Penguin colony, Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Adelie Penguin with chick Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

There were also Snow Petrel nesting high on the cliff as well as Kelp Gull lower down.

Adelie Penguin near Brown Buff, Antarctic Mainland
Photograph taken by and copyright Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

 

We have had strict rules in relation to our landings. First, we had to vacuum our clothes and belongings, especially Velcro, to remove seeds and plant matter so they did not become alien plants in Antarctica. We also had to scrub and disinfect our boots each time we left the boots. Also, not getting close to any birds or animals and not removing anything at all from any place. The staff on our boat are really dedicated and so care about preserving Antarctica. However, this may not be the same for all ship crew. The numbers of visitors have increased massively over the last 20 years and so the impact of passenger landings has to be considered.

The research shows that nesting penguins are pretty robust but other birds nesting at landing sites may be affected by disturbance. Other issues might be the trampling of lichen and other rare fauna. At the moment things are self-regulated through the Antarctica tourism group however there seems to be no real way of punishing persistent offenders. I think overall that although there is a limited impact from tourism this plays an important part in ensuring that people know and care about this continent, which is crucial to stop countries from exploiting the area.

Best birds and animals of the day:
Snow Petrel
Kelp Gull
Brown Skua
Adelie Penguin
Gentoo Penguin
Orca
Humpback Whales

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