Jonathan's Adventures to Antarctica
We woke up with some grey clouds and snow falling. We spent the first part of the morning at Peterman Island, the site of the Oceanites Research Station with three researchers. It was nice to meet an actual group that was living at the station for the summer. They were studying the fluctuating populations of Gentoo penguins whose populations are increasing and moving south. In contrast, the Adelies' numbers are on the decline. At present the Gentoo penguin nests number about 2,300. In 1988 there were only 755. On the other hand there are only 500 Adelie nests at present -- there were 1,080 in 1988. Peterman Island is the most southerly Gentoo rookery known. This season the estimated laying date for the Gentoos is the 24th of November, and for the Adelies it is the 14th of November. Both of these dates are considered to be rather early. The Gentoo increase and Adelie decline is considered to be a consequence of melting sea ice and the related availability of krill. Krill larvae develop beneath sea ice and so a reduction in the latter means less krill. This impacts on the Adelies because they are wholly krill eaters. The Gentoos on the other hand have a more varied diet (krill, fish, limpets etc) and so are less affected.
It was neat to see the two species in the area, co-mingling. We also watched a large group of blue-eyed shags, relatives of the flightless cormorants that I saw in the Galapagos. I hiked with some other travelers and Barry to the top of a ridge that gave a great vista of the island. Barry grabbed our attention when he thought he spotted a seal about half a mile from us on the shoreline. With our binoculars, we concurred and tried to determine the species. At this point the kayakers came around the bend, and Barry gave them directions to scope out the seal and confirm species. Tim, the kayak guide, could only laugh once he arrived into the area, and our seal turned out to be a rock. Barry chuckled and said, "I guess I am not a good geologist or biologist." I can attest that I saw the head move as well.
We then took off to visit Port Lockroy for a quick visit of the Gentoo colony. The station and port office were closed, but we saw where Nigel spent a summer as the Post Master. He had great stories of his dinner invitations from the crew of ships that passed through --once on board, the crew would strongly encourage a quick hot shower. I guess you get quite stinky among thousands of penguins.
We then climbed into the Zodiac for a tour to the icebergs. The icebergs were of course great, but the highlight was the two Minke whales. Our experience with these two magnificent beasts was one of those magical once-in-a-lifetime experiences that will never be forgotten. We cut the engines and sat there whilst the whales examined us. Back on board there was much excited chatter and passing around of digital cameras with some amazing shots. Everyone was excited and relating there own versions of events. "It dived right under the boat," said one. "You could see every last detail of it,&" said another. "What about when it gently pushed our Zodiac?" added a third. "I'd never have believed how delicate the movements of something that size could be," "I saw its whole profile under water!" "How could anybody possibly kill these?" And, "it was incredible to be that close to such a large animal without feeling the least bit afraid," were others. Even the staff, whose experience in these waters is vast, agreed that it was the best sighting of Minke whales they'd ever had!