At Yankee Harbor, I had the chance to experience something I had not experienced during my last trip to Antarctica - encounters with Elephant Seals!
We arrived at one end of the harbor and made our way with the guides on a walk along the shoreline. As we went, they taught us about the geology, history and ecology of the landing site. We examined a dead penguin carcass and saw a few more lives ones waddle by.
We reached the other end of the harbor where the shoreline was covered in wildlife. Gentoo penguins had set up several colonies, and the parents were hard at work sitting on their nests. As we drew closer, we noticed that almost every nest was full. There were a few with eggs still, but mostly, every parent was sitting on one or two chicks! They were adorable and ranged in size from super tiny to over a foot tall. Some lucky parents had two hatchlings, but most only had one. We watched the daily routine take place as one parent made the journey between sea and nest to deliver food to the little ones. It was great!
Right along side the colonies of penguins were piles of giant elephant seals. While a few had the giant noses you envision, many of the smaller ones did not. But that did not prevent them from making the most incredible caucauphany of sounds! It was one of the strangest noises I have ever heard. Sort of like a crazy, deep bubbling of gases. It was non-stop the whole time we were there!
Our two favorite moments at Yankee Harbor came from the wildlife. First, we watched as en elephant seal made his was from one side of a penguin colony (where he was all alone) to the other side to join a giant pile of his friends. Rather than going around, he went directly through the colony. He was massive compared to the penguins, and we thought, for sure, at least one penguin would be crushed or one nest destroyed as he flopped his way through the crowd. To our amazement, he made it through casualty-free! When he got to the pile of seals on the other side, he didn’t just take his place on the edge of the group, but rather, forcibly flopped his way into the center-top of the pile. The whole process took about 10-15 minutes and was hilarious to watch.
The second moment was a bit of dark humor. It was an incredibly windy day - to the point that you had to brace yourself as you walked forward in order not to be blown backwards. As we were standing watching the seals, we watched a giant dead penguin carcass blow across the beach and completely take out a live penguin who was making his way to the shore!
At the end of our visit to Yankee Harbor, the more hearty passengers on board were given the chance to do a polar plunge. They stripped down on the beach and ran into the water, then ran back out. They did this one at a time. I have already experienced a polar plunge in Antarctica - and I felt like my last experience was a better one. It was off the side of the ship where you were actually jumping into the ocean, you had to swim a distance, and then, once you got out, you could run right into the hot tub or shower. These people had to run into the water from zero-depth (I never would have made it past my ankles), they were running in where the water was full of penguin and seal droppings (no thank you!) and then they had to come back out, freezing and soaking wet, wait for everyone else to go, and then ride a zodiac for 20 minutes back to the boat before they could get dry or warm. I decided my previous plunge was more than enough to check that off my bucket list and decided to take a nice, dry, warm ride back to the ship, fully clothed instead!