Monday, February 15th – It was the second day on the Antarctic Peninsula so far, and we had an early start as Bud, our expedition leader, decided we should visit Pourquoi Pas Island as we headed back north.
In addition to both the regular shore visit and a Zodiac tour, we were also given the option of kayaking in the area, so that’s what we all did.
We were in the Group B kayak group, meaning we left the National Geographic Explorer at 9:15am by Zodiac, getting to a special floating kayak launch platform in the open seas, and then getting in two-person kayaks. Bas and I were in one kayak, and Linda and Krystyana in another.
We spent about an hour paddling around, looking at the floating chunks of ice, the glacier cliff, and various critters on bits of land (and a penguin on one of the ice floes too).
The bits of ice in the water ranged in size from the size of a pack of cards to larger than our house. We were warned during our briefing to stay away from anything taller than us because they were dangerous and unstable.
One small iceberg had an Adelie (pronounced “Ah-Dell-Ee”) penguin on it, and on a nearby rock outcropping we found a group of fur seals.
I also took the opportunity to approach a smaller “berg bit” and break off a chunk of ice to taste it. I was surprised to find that it tasted pure – not a bit of salt. Apparently, with glacial ice, even floating in the water, the saline of ocean water does not penetrate beyond the surface of the ice.
After our kayak workout, we were taken to shore at nearby Bongrain Point, a landing on Pourquoi Pas Island, where we found numerous small groups of Adelie penguins on a broad expanse of rock rubble and a glacial moraine (deposits of rock left by receding glaciers).
We found many of the rocks on shore covered by lichen, a fungal spore “plant” which can be hundreds of years old and grows very slowly. Lichen are the most populous plant family found in Antarctica, as regular tall plants simply cannot survive the climate. There’s a rare specie of grass, two flower plants, and several mosses that grow in the Antarctic, but not much else that will grow on land.
Later in the day our progress was interrupted by a pod of over twenty killer whales, and we got to spend nearly an hour following them around.
Our cetacean mammal researcher, Stephanie Martin, went out on a Zodiac in order to use her special crossbow and quarrels to try an obtain a DNA sample from one of the orcas, but after a half hour was forced to return to the Explorer, unsuccessful in her efforts.
Our day ended with what is likely to be our only passage through an ice pack. The ice pack was loose, composed of countless chunks of varying size of ice. But what was thoroughly impressive was the loud grinding noise that accompanied our ten minute passage through the ice pack.
Linda and I watched the forward progress of the Explorer through the ice pack on the TV in our cabin, and the trailing progress from our balcony at the rear of the ship. Pretty amazing.