Salisbury Plain

Before the passengers could go on shore, the Expedition Team prepared the landing site. At Salisbury Plain that included spotting the bit of the beach that was not entirely occupied by Fur Seals.choosing landing site Boat groups of passengers took turns in who was allowed to go first, and as a result I was the first of only a few lucky ones to make it. The landing had to be aborted and turned into a drive-by on the polarcircle boats because of the swell. FramAnyway, there I was, being utterly happy. Coming to this place had been a secret hope (the surprise came on the evening before the landing) because this colony is part of a project hosted by the Zooniverse, http://www.penguinwatch.org/.

This meant I had seen pictures similar to mine below before, but was still gobsmacked by the reality. King colonyIn the project, members of the public, called Citizen Scientists, help to identify juvenile and adult penguins from different colonies. Give it a try! Or go to http://www.penguinlifelines.org/ for more information.

Although the King Penguins are the main attraction, given the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of them not difficult, there was a lot more going on.Giant Petrel hunting Giant Petrels were always around. We had to be very careful around young male adult Fur Seals, but the Elephant Seals were much more pleasant.Elephant Seal The penguins and the seals seem to exist following a ‘live and let live’ idea. King walkingKing juvenileThe colony is just one of several on the island, and the peculiar breeding cycle of the Kings gave us a chance to see chicks in all their brown fluffiness, moulting adults and courting adults.

Penguin communication involves a lot of body language. Kings communicatingThey also spend a surprising amount of time on their bellies or standing on their heels.King swimming King baskingOn a sunny day at Salisbury Plain, life is definitely good.

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First Impressions of South Georgia

We woke up on Dec 7 to this view from our porthole. South Georgia 1Rain, fog, swell. Breakfast time. And because the weather on South Georgia changes faster than you can say ‘fur seal’, after breakfast we enjoyed this: South Georgia 2

It became clear that both beach and sea were teeming with wildlife.South Georgia 4South Georgia 3 We spotted Fur Seals in the water and a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross kept on flying by. Fur SealLight-mantled Sooty Albatross

Best of all, however, were the King Penguins. At a rough estimate, 200 000 King Penguins.Kings Then we went ashore … next post.

Shag Rocks & an Iceberg

On the afternoon of Dec 4 we started sailing towards South Georgia, which we would reach eventually on Dec 7. In between, we crossed from the South Atlantic Ocean into the Antarctic (Southern) Ocean, or Scotia Sea as this part of it is called. The two oceans are connected or separated, that depends on your point of view, by the Antarctic Convergence (wikipedia article).
The first South Georgian outpost we made out in the fog on the afternoon of Dec 6 was Shag Rocks. shag rocksThey are aptly named after their inhabitants.
Yes, it’s the dots on the rocks – mainly shags and albatrosses. shag rocks detail
Shortly afterwards, we knew for sure we’d come south when we met our first iceberg, just a small one. You can see an albatross flyingiceberg and albatross just left of the middle if you zoom into the photo. I was, still am, captivated by ice. iceberg and petrelsThere is so much to discover in the whiteness, like the two Cape Petrels or the dark layer (maybe volcanic ash) in the ice. Beautiful frozen water. iceart

Meet the Expedition Team

Hilde John Line and InaThe 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.

Therese

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!)Steffen

 

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!Tessa

On excursions, like hikes or kayaking, the team were our guides and had extra rations of chocolate with them. Just in case.Steffen2

 

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.Rudolf

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.