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Paradise Harbor & Culverville Island

A weddel seal lounging on an ice floe.
A weddel seal lounging on an ice floe.
Jan 29, 2023
Today we wake up in Paradise Harbor and gorgeous protected area which is also the site of a base for Argentina that is manned in summer and conducts fish research. We are far south on the Peninsula now, and I believe will start to cruise northward the rest of the way and make it to the Weddell Sea. We get to take part in our first continental landing this morning! We hop into zodiacs and scoot to shore where we unload on the ‘beach’ made of rocks and covered in about 1-2 meters of ice. We spot some gentoo penguins on shore that let us watch them as they play and jump into the water. We walk around on the ice pack and take in the spectacular views. Being here is so hard to describe or capture in pictures. The landscape is just so vast and the sense of being so small in it is so hard to put in a photo. We next zodiac around the cove, again admiring the icebergs in the lake and taking in the glaciers coming down from the dramatic mountains around the edges. We get to see gentoo penguins, a cormorant colony, a deposit of copper in the mountainside which has turned turquoise from oxidation, and many hues of blue in the glacial ice. We are cruising through a pace of ice when an iceberg comes apart and rolls right in front of us. It was a small one and we were perfectly at a safe distance, but it shocked a bunch of us! I can see why they don’t want you to get too close to them, as they are very unpredictable. As we cruise around for another hour, we spot a leopard seal lounging on some flow ice. He barely lifts his face to look at us as we cruise by and snap some photos. He looks so at peace in his nap on the ice.

We cruise back to the boat where it is shortly announced that we will do the polar plunge in twenty minutes! Sounds like they want to take advantage of the calm waters to do one. I must decide if I will partake or not and decide I must try everything at least once. So, we change into our swimsuits and wander down to the back of the boat. About 40 to 50 of us are huddled together in our swimsuits and bathrobes waiting for our turn. We jump off the launch pad into the water and feel the shock of cold around us.  The water is very cold, and it takes my breath away, and all I can think is ‘get out, get out, get out!’. We crawl up on a pontoon with handles to get back up quickly where we are promptly handed a towel and a shot of vodka to warm us up! What a great memory! I am glad I have tried it, if even only due to peer pressure. 
In the afternoon we land off Culverville Island and it has started snowing now. It is shocking, as this morning it was ‘warm’ and sunny, and now we are in an area with thick cloud cover, and snow with the wind. We land at Culverville Island and wander around the very numerous Gentoo penguin colonies here. There are many who have nested high up on the hill and watching them waddle their way up and down the hill to get rocks and access the water is entertaining.  Here we can see many nests and babies being kept warm. Most are sitting atop only one chick, but some even have two they are taking care of.  We learn that the likelihood of laying two eggs, and those two eggs surviving are very rare, so this is a unique sight. There must be around 1500 pairs or so on this island, and it seems to be that numerous. We can walk the expanse of the rocky beach and admire them. We also spot a weddell seal camped out on the ice that is posing nicely for us. At this point, I am feeling already a bit ‘penguined’ out – and it is only Day 2 of full excursions! They just are everywhere, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to witness their hilarious behaviors.  This evening we enjoy a lecture during our evening debrief on identifying various types of penguins as well as identifying whales by their tales and how to participate in citizen science with the happywhale.com project.

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