Another memorable day has come and nearly gone. Today we went to Half Moon Island/bay for a land expedition amongst a Chinstrap Penguin colony. The wind died down in the bay, the light was really soft, and it felt quite warm with a temperature above zero (maybe 5 degrees C?). There were thousands of Chinstraps all over the island with a couple of Gentoos mixed in. They seemed to not care at all when the zodiacs came ashore and people started getting out. Under the Antarctic Treaty we have to follow very strict rules which include not getting within a 15 foot distance of wildlife, not cutting penguins off from the water, not crossing their major highways, and more. Though you can’t approach penguins too closely or touch them, you can sit down and let them come to you.
It was your typical Antarctic scene. The tallest mountains in Antarctica surrounded us, there were glaciers everywhere, the strong pungent smell of penguins was in the air, and the noisy chatter and groaning of the colony could not be ignored. I had a lot of opportunities for some great photos, and had some taken of me with the penguins in the background. When I sat down, some brave penguins would waddle, skip, and flop their way by within a couple of feet of where I was. They are super cute; very awkward and clumsy on land, but the most graceful creatures alive in the water. Nothing beats the sight of seeing them propel themselves like dolphins through the ocean surface. Some of them were sitting on chicks just a couple of days old, some were still on eggs, and two couples that I saw had only just finished their bonding rituals and mated. This is very late in the season for them; the scientists think it is due to the amount of snow that has not yet melted. There were also Antarctic Terns, Antarctic Cormorants, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, and Kelp Gulls nesting nearby. Some Skua patrolled the colony for unguarded chicks, and Weddell Seals lolled on the shore.
Half Moon Island is such a place of action, but so peaceful to visit. It is a place where wildlife have to be at the top of their game in order to survive. Penguins seem so helpless constantly flopping over on their faces, sliding down hills, and flapping their tiny wings, but in order to survive such a harsh environment they have to be one of the toughest creatures in the region and specially adapted. It’s something that I never truly thought about or realized until I spent some time sitting and watching them today. What breath-taking and incredible animals they are!
Tonight we will be going by Deception Island, but will not be stopping for a swim. This is because one of the two propellers on the ship stopped working, likely when we broke through some sea ice yesterday. Now our speed and maneuverability has been decreased and we don’t want to risk getting stuck in the bay at Deception. Since this ship was meant to take a beating and most ships function with only one propeller anyways, we have nothing to worry about. It only means that if they can’t get it fixed we may have to leave Antarctica a bit early due to our slower traveling speed. What an adventure!!