Antarctica 2008

A Travelogue and Brief Commentary



The itinerary:


Feb. 2, 2008:     Embark from Ushuaia, Argentina on board the M/V Ocean Nova

Feb 3, 2008:      At sea in Drake Passage

Feb. 4, 2008:     At sea in Drake Passage

Feb. 5, 2008:     Neko Harbour

                        Curerville Island

                        Lemaire Channel

Feb. 6, 2008:     Prospect Point and Fish Islands

                        Crossing of Antarctic Circle

Feb. 7, 2008:     Petermann Island

                        Pleneau Bay and Port Charcot

Feb. 8, 2008:     Palmer Station

                        Torgensen Island

                        Port Lockroy

                        Jougla Point

                        Neumayer Channel

Feb. 9, 2008:     False Bay, Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands

Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands

Feb. 10, 2008:   At sea in Drake Passage

Feb. 11, 2008:   At sea in Drake Passage

Feb. 12, 2008:   Disembark Ushuaia, Argentina


Ushuaia bears a remarkable resemblance, physically and culturally, to Whitehorse, Yukon.  It lies on the wind-swept Beagle Channel—leaning into the wind is a survival necessity.



Ushuaia                                                                        The Beagle Channel


Ushuaia is a long way from anywhere.



Ushuaia-Buenos Aires                                                  End of Pan-American Highway, Tierra del Fuego National Park


Lupines evidently find Ushuaia gardens to their liking, but the natural vegetation is beech forest.



Lupines, Ushuaia



Beech leaves, Ushuaia                                                 In the beech forest above Ushuaia                                Mistletoe in a troll forest


And Ushuaia has abundant bird life.


Female and male kelp geese, Ushuaia


Our ship to Antarctica was the M/V Ocean Nova, chartered by Quark Expeditions.  A smallish craft, she was designed for the coastal waters of Greenland.  Her seaworthiness was never truly tested on the trip.  The Drake Passage is a notorious transit—one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the world as the circum-Antarctic currents stream through the narrow passage between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula.  We passed with “calm” 1-2 m seas—the next day saw a more typical gale which battered a ship following ours with 5-10 metre waves.  Even with the easy passage, many passengers suffered from the motion.



M/V Ocean Nova                                                           The Drake Passage passage                                         Chinese New Year on board


Landings from the M/S Ocean Nova were made by zodiac.


Landing at Neko Harbour


We were blessed with calm seas on the entire trip.  The time saved meant that the crew was able to head much father south than is the norm.  We reached 66o 33’ S, 67o 37’ W on February 6.  One of the expedition crew had been on over 60 Antarctic trips, yet this was his first crossing of the Antarctic Circle.  There was an obligatory visit by Neptune and his wife.



Navigation chart south of Antarctic Circle                    David Brewer (ornithologist) as Neptune's wife



Antarctica: sea, ice and rock.



The first sight of Antarctica, an island off the Antarctic Peninsula        Lemaire Channel                                              Lemaire Channel



Lemaire Channel                                                          Scene at Petermann Island                                           Sea, ice and rock in the Neumayer Channel



Icebergs grounded at Petermann Island                       Iceberg in Pleneau Bay                                                The plasticity and brittleness glacial ice in the Neumayer Channel


Blue icebergs are formed of air-free ice from deep within glaciers.


Iceberg at Neko Harbour


Una's Tits form the dramatic north entrance to the Lemaire Channel.  The paired peaks are supposedly named after a well-endowed bar maid in the Falkland Islands.


Una's Tits, Lemaire Channel


Everywhere, the climate is harsh, vegetation sparse.  The continent has no solely terrestrial animals larger than an insect.



Orange lichen, Torgersen Island                      Moss, Petermann Island


Albatrosses followed the ship across the Drake Passage.




Humpback whales were our first “Antarctic” species.  They were an almost daily sighting in Antarctic waters.  In Pleneau Bay the whales basically ignored the zodiacs and came up within 10 m.



Humpback whales near the South Shetland Islands     Humpback whale in Lemaire Channel                         



Humpback whale in Pleneau Bay                                 Humpback whale in Pleneau Bay


We did see a large pod of orcas as we approached the Antarctic Circle.


Orcas in the Briscoe Islands


On shore, getting close for wildlife photography was not a particular challenge. 



Photographing a blue-eyed shag, Petermann Island    Scua posing for Brandon Harvey (marine biologist), Torgersen Island


During the trip we saw four penguin species, two (Magellanic and chinstrap penguins) only briefly and at distance.  But gentoo and Adelie penguins were common.  Both species were in various stages of moulting and raising chicks.


It was never hard to tell when one was approaching a penguin colony.  The noise carried, the rocks were stained a tell-tale brick red, and, oh yes, the smell.  Despite wearing wellies for all the landings and taking them off as soon as one was on board for a thorough disinfecting, over time, the whole ship, and especially the cabins, took on a peculiar odour.  Even weeks later when we opened our duffels, we could still catch that faint reminiscent smell.


Both gentoos and Adelies eat krill, that ubiquitous crustacean of Antarctic waters.  The pigments do not digest, so penguin colonies are smear of red guano/droppings/poo/crap/shit.  Worse is the fate of the young penguins that live in this soup.



Gentoo Penguin colony at Neko Harbour                     Adele penguins chicks at the Fish Islands



Moulting gentoo penguin at Neko Harbour       Gentoo penguin feathers at Neko Harbour



Gentoo penguins, Neko Harbour                                  Gentoo penguin,  Neko Harbour                                   Gentoo penguin with chick, Neko Harbour



Gentoo penguin and chicks, Cuverville Island             Gentoo penguins, Cuverville Island                                        



Adele penguin, Fish Islands                                         Adelie penguins on an iceberg near Fish Islands


Skuas are the main predators at the penguin colonies.



Skua in gentoo penguin colony, Cuverville Island       Egg predation, Cuverville Island


Blue-eyed shags shared room near Adelie penguin colonies.  And the strange sheathbill scavenges around the colonies.  Despite its virginal white plumage, the sheathbill has some fairly unsavoury behaviours—much of its diet consists of the “leftovers” in penguin poo.  Kelp gulls were common; Antarctic terns, rarer.



Blue-eyed shag, Petermann Island                               Sheathbill, Port Lockroy                                              Sheathbill, Port Lockroy



Kelp gull, Neko Harbour                                               Antarctic tern, Jougla Point


We had multiple, and close, sightings of three pinniped species: fur seals, Weddell seals and leopard seals.  Leopard seals are a prime predator of penguins at sea—they do seen to have a self-satisfied look about them; one does need to keep one’s hands in the zodiac, they show no fear and great interest.



Fur seal, Petermann Island                                          Fur seal, Petermann Island



Weddell seal, Neko Harbour                                         Weddell seal, Neko Harbour



Leopard seal, Errera Channel                                       Leopard seal near Prospect Point                                Leopard seal cruising the zodiac, Fish Islands


Antarctica was prime whaling territory during the middle of the 20th century.  The artefacts, bones and relics, are widespread.



Whalebones on the beach, Cuverville Island                Reconstructed whale skeleton, Jougla Point



Gentoo penguins and whalebones, Jougla Point         Gentoo penguin and whalebones, Jougla Point



Water boat, Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands    Whale oil tanks, Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands


Ruins at Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands


Deception Island is a caldera (a collapsed volcano).  As with Santorini in the Greek Islands, Deception Island is breached so that one can sail right into the caldera itself.  The vulcanism still heats the beach sand enough to raise steam.



Deception Island                                                          Steam rising on beach, Whalers Bay, Deception Island


The caldera, Deception Island


We visited two stations: the utilitarian U.S. research base Palmer Station and the British station at Port Lockroy on Goudier.  Port Lockroy now operates solely as a museum, dependent on souvenir sales from visiting cruises—three people spend a somewhat remote few summer months here.



Palmer Station                                                             Palmer Station                                                             The hot tub’s warmer anyway, Palmer Station



Port Lockroy, Goudier Island                                       Communications room, Port Lockroy, Goudier Island


The last sunset, Beagle Channel