Day 4, Half Moon Island
Dana: After sleeping off the whole day yesterday (and the day before), I woke up bright and early at 6 am, glad that the boat was now in calm waters. Today we were also going to be doing our first two excursions. Our first trip would be to Half Moon Bay where we would be visiting our first penguin colony. I was a little nervous because it was a small inflatable boat and we weren’t on calm waters and I was afraid of falling out.
Dana, after first excursion: What an unbelievable first visit on land! Right away you could hear and smell the penguins everywhere. We saw a gigantic rookery of chinstrap penguins, there had to be close to a thousand. It was incredible to see how the penguins interacted with each other. We observed the dirty penguins filing down after each other one by one to the sea to fish and to get clean, and the clean ones returning to the nest to feed the chicks. I absolutely love watching penguins walk, the way that they waddle back and forth, hopping from rock to rock. You can tell these guys were on a mission. The chicks we saw were a little older and just about to start molting into their adult feathers.
The best part of this trip was that we weren’t rushed while on the island. The access to the penguins was unbelievable, we were able to take our time with pictures, and for the most part humans are curious to them, completely unafraid. About two hours into our trip to Half Moon Bay we got what we think will be one of the biggest highlights of our visit, a macaroni penguin! In our penguin lecture we were told it would be highly unlikely that we would see one. It was a solo Macaroni Penguin heading up towards his mate, who was hidden from view up in the rocks. Our guide told us he must have a nest up there because he knew exactly where to go, and that it isn’t that uncommon to see different species of penguins living together. It was such a treat though to see this little guy and his bright yellow feather “spikes” on top of his head. While he ascended to his nest, we caught a curious chinstrap chasing him off and biting him on his back.
Day 4, Walker Bay, Livingston Island
Dana, after lunch, landing #2: The next excursion for us is Walker Bay on Livingston Island, where we will see another colony of penguins and hopefully a few seals. The seals were all laying out on the beach as we arrived, but we couldn’t tell what kind they were. After closer (but not too close) inspection, we found out they were male elephant seals. One of the marine biologists told us that these seals are here because they weren’t big enough to mate with any females, so they come down to Antarctica from the South Georgia Islands to the northwest to sleep for the summer and wait until next season when they are a little bigger to compete for females. They were still really big in my eyes, and they really didn’t do much but sleep. Occasionally you would catch one scratching himself or yawning and every now and then they would adjust to get more comfortable. One of the bigger guys put on a little show for us with some fierce yawns that made him look pretty angry.
Next, Adam and I headed towards a huge gentoo penguin colony, thousands of them. As we got closer we noticed the chicks were a little smaller than the chinstrap penguins we had seen earlier, this is because penguins have to wait to build their nests and lay eggs until the snow has melted where they are, the eggs wouldn’t survive on a snowy nest . Some nests are higher up that others and we noticed that the chicks are older than the ones further down. I also noticed something different too, the chicks were chasing one of the parent around. Not just a slight jog, they were running full speed and sometimes falling face first into the ground. I found it hilarious and also curious if the parents were teaching their chicks something, like running from a predator or something like that. The tour leaders told us that the chicks were begging the parents for food and the parents are refusing because the chicks need to start finding their own.
We sat there for a half hour or so just laughing at the penguins running around before we decided to get back to the beach. On our way back down the hill we saw a bachelor Weddell seal snoozing by the shore. He didn’t seem to mind his picture being taken, and was more interested in scratching his fins than noticing us. We were both pretty exhausted with our first day of action, but can’t wait for four more days of excursions!
(Editors note: Check back on Thursday for more stories from Antarctica…. currently experiencing some ‘technical’ difficulties in our current location. Thanks!)