The taxonomy of Phalacrocorax atriceps is apparently very complicated. Much easier to say is that this one was quite happily settled between Adelié and Gentoo penguins, and getting on with breeding on Petermann Island in Antarctica.
It was a bit foggy in the Lemaire Channel. Navigating through this narrow piece of geography in between the Antarctic Peninsula and Booth Island, trying to evade the icebergs can’t have been easy, in the past or now.
The penguins themselves porpoised through the water. Or, when the fog lifted somewhat, we could see small colonies and the highways in between them. The ice floes were also good places to spot seals. This is a Weddell seal, I unfortunately missed the Leopard seal. Need to go again!
We had been cruising somewhere between the Antarctic Peninsula and Wiencke Island, when we hit ice. Its peculiar shape has led to its name, pancake ice. There was no continuous ice surface, just small floes and slush in between.
The ship had also been built to deal with exactly this kind of condition. Every now and then we could hear a loud, low-pitch bang – must have been biggisher pieces of ice.
So we spent time on deck, watching the ice, when someone pointed out a penguin swimming close to the ship. This was in itself quite rare, they tend to swim away. Then I took a picture of the penguin and won the bird jackpot of the trip. An Emperor, completely out of place. Their colonies are in other places on the continent. Birders pay tens of thousands of dollars to see them. I was the only one lucky enough to take a photo, and shared that on the Fram’s blog: http://mvfram.blogspot.com.ar/2014/12/a-busy-day-at-cuverville-and-almirante.html.
There was, however, a lot more to be seen, also some wildlife. Wilson’s Storm Petrels kept swooping by. On some bergs, penguins had settled down for a ride (look right). Blue ice could be seen more often. Further afield, big icebergs loomed, and sometimes you couldn’t really tell the difference between them and islands. Glaciers were everywhere. What I found, again, most fascinating were the sections of calm water, where the mountains and the ice mirrored in the sea. Can you find the ship in both photos?
Dear Reader, we’ve made it to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Station). The station is manned only during summer. Otherwise, it belongs to Gentoo penguins, Snowy Sheathbills, Kelp Gulls and Blue-eyed Shags., welcome in Antarctica proper, continental, at Brown Station (wikipedia:
It’s always good to know where you are in the world.
Cuverville Island is a small island in the Errera Channel just off the Antarctic Peninsula. It is home to a lot of ice and several thousand Gentoo penguins, who have built highways in the snow. You can clearly recognise the penguin paths.
The expedition team consisted of about a dozen people hailing from three different continents. They were basically the people we could approach about anything and everything. We could visit their lectures at ‘Fram University’. Topics reached from photography via the history of whaling to navigation and all kinds of biological and geological topics.
They also had to do a lot of paperwork with passengers booking excursions or flights.
At every landing site, they kept in touch with each other and the ship. It never felt like Big Brother, though, and passengers knew they were safe.
We could always approach the team with whatever silly question there was to be asked. They had answers to the most outlandish query! (How many feathers are there on one square centimeter of penguin body? Up to 46000!)
They also made sure that we were safe from fur seals, and vice versa that the wildlife was safe from us. We had to follow red flags for guidance and keep our distance from animals and birds according to IAATO guidelines. Just sometimes the wildlife didn’t stick to the guidelines, and then it got really exciting!
At landing sites, their life was not always sunshine. We had lots of elderly passengers, 80 or more years old, so the team had to prepare paths. Depending on the site, they also had to stand in 1°C cold water to help people entering or leaving the polarcircle boats. Of course they were well equipped for those conditions, but standing knee-deep in icewater for three or four hours is not fun.
But then, there are certain perks that come with the job, the weather and the wildlife.
Thank you, expedition team! You were the icing on the cake.