Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Day 6 – Glaciers, Icebergs, and…More Penguins!

December 23, 2014

Remember my commentary about how time passes in Antarctica?  Well today it must have warped because somehow we managed to pack more activities and learning into a 24 hour cycle than I thought humanly possible!

Our day began bright and early with breakfast at 7:30 followed by our first activity – a zodiac tour around Cierva Cove.  We made our way through the pristine water, the crisp air blowing in our faces, our zodiacs plunging through the “bergie bits” scattered throughout the water.  Their parents, the larger icebergs, towered overhead all around the cove, radiant in the morning sun.  Across the way, we visited a grandfather iceberg patterned with deep blues and greens.  

Icebergs and glaciers contain compacted water that is so tightly compressed in many places it squeezes all air out of the water.  This causes our eyes to perceive a blue hue, when looking at the snow and ice.  Cierva Cove was full of massive snow and ice structures streaked with bright blue tint.  Listening closely all around us we could hear the snap, crackle, and pop of air being compressed out of ice:  a reminder that although they appear frozen and immobile, these mammoth structures are constantly flowing and changing.

About halfway through our tour we were approached by another Lindblad zodiac flying a flag that read “Hot Choco.”  We were delighted to receive a cup of hot chocolate from these fine gentlemen and took a few moments to indulge in the scenery and the warmth of our beverage. 

We continued on and discovered a leopard seal basking on an iceberg.  He eyed us lazily and then yawned, displaying a large mouthful of tricuspid teeth—perfect for munching on krill, fish, or (gasp!) the occasional penguin (hey, everybody’s got to eat’s all part of the ecosystem).

Trading the liquid mirror of Cierva Cove for the much choppier waters of the Enterprise Islands, we again took the zodiacs out for a cruise around the area.  There, we saw the ruins of some old shipwrecks and more glaciers, mountains, and icebergs.  This ride was much colder with frigid seaspray in our faces; nevertheless, it was a small price to pay for the memorable experience.

During lunch we began our journey toward Danco Island.  A few of us ate in the Observation Lounge atop the ship and enjoyed a stunning view of the ride.   Snow-covered mountains in the distance created the perfect Antarctic backdrop for the scenes in the water: whitecaps blowing against icebergs, occasionally causing them to flip on their sides, and hitch-hiking penguins taking a ride on the icebergs.

En route to Danco Island we had several staff give presentations to further enhance our experience.  We learned more details about glaciers and ice as well as leopard seals.  Our National Geographic photographer also showed us a presentation of her photography work in Alaska and described how she uses her photography to tell stories of the complexities of oil drilling and the Alyeska Pipeline.

After this, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that weather conditions were perfect for a late night hike up to a large Gentoo penguin colony in Danco Island.  We donned our gear and took a 9:45 p.m. zodiac to the shore where we proceeded to hike nearly 800 feet up a steep incline to observe the Gentoos. 

Similar to the Chinstrap colony we saw yesterday, Gentoos were also nesting.  These particular Gentoos seemed a little more feisty than the Chinstraps (even though I hear they tend to have a calmer disposition than Chinstraps), and I laughed to myself as I watched various troublemakers sneak around trying to pick rocks from others' nests.  Security was pretty tight and it didn’t take long for nest-defending Gentoos to peck at, and even knock over, the would-be burglars. Defeated, but still resilient, the pests would pick themselves up, dust themselves off and carry on wandering from home to home looking for goodies.

This colony also had a very defined penguin highway between the water below and the nests high above. I sat silently watching lines of penguins with clean white chests, freshly washed by days of swimming in the sea, make the steep climb to their partners and their eggs.  The birds coming down from the nests, their chests dirty from a week of sitting on eggs, looked eager to jump into the water and feast on the krill buffet their partners had recently left behind.

The penguins made going down the steep incline look easy.  Taking a few lessons from the penguins, we, too, retreated down the peak using a combination of walking, hopping, and sliding.  I relived the childhood exhilaration of sliding down the steep hill right on my snowpants with a snow-covered mountain view and a midnight sun glistening on the water below. 

It was the perfect end to the perfect day!

Halfway through the climb at Danco Island - the time is around 10:00 p.m.

Gentoo Penguin at Danco Island

Gentoo Penguins at Danco Island - Trekking up the penguin highway

Ice Bridge at Cierva Cove

1 comment:

  1. That picture reminds me of the movie Happy Feet. Haven't seen one dancing have you?