Posts Tagged ‘Elephant Island’

GPS Tracking – Elephant Island to South Georgia

February 21st, 2010 at 6:06 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We woke to a cold and wet (snow/rain) day as we arrived at the south-eastern end of South Georgia. We were going to be starting our exploration of South Georgia from Cooper Bay, but the anchorage conditions were not good, so we’re heading to Drygalski Fjord.

However, the animal life signs at Cooper Bay were encouraging with lots of water fowl (petrels, I think) on or above the water, and in a brief span I counted dozes of seals frolicking in the water as well.

Our time zone just changed overnight as well, and we are now at GMT-2 (U.S. East Coast is at GMT-5 this time of year, for reference).

In case you were wondering, all of yesterday was spent at sea, with good size swells (and thus sporadic queasiness) and no obvious whale sightings, hence the relatively boring GPS track below. Also, no photos were taken yesterday. Gasp!

 

Hello, Macaroni Penguins at Cape Lookout

February 19th, 2010 at 2:15 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

Well, the day started with a landing at what would have been the preferred site for Shackleton and his men, Cape Lookout. They attempted to land at Cape Valentine, but the real place where they stayed and Shackleton sailed from to South Georgia, is Point Wild.

Cape Lookout is mostly rock and barely any beach, but the rock is very interesting due to the layers and layers that are each about an inch thick on average. We separated into groups and took a zodiac cruise, with a 15 minute stop on a small beach. The main penguin species were chinstrap but a few macaroni penguins were hopping among them.

chinstrap penguin

chinstrap penguin

two macaroni penguins

two macaroni penguins

The macaroni’s interesting features are an orange crest that connects in the middle, red eyes, and an orange beak. The macaroni penguin comes by its name from the nickname given to the hats with a feather on them, think of the song Yankee Doodle “he stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” like the macaroni penguins’ crest.

Macaroni penguin shaking off water

Macaroni penguin shaking off water

macaroni penguin with rock in beak

macaroni penguin with rock in beak

This was the first day we saw elephant seals (by the way, that’s why the island is called Elephant Island, because that is what the discoverer of the island saw…elephant seals and incidentally, if you look at a map of the island, it sort of looks like the head of an elephant).

Elephant seal male pup winking

Elephant seal male pup winking

Pintado petrels were in the hundreds and the small Wilson’s storm petrels were hopping above the water in among the crowds of petrels as they flew from one section of ocean to another. To add to the excitement, a penguin had died (or was killed) and all the petrels were scrambling to get piece of it, as well as other species of petrel. The Pintado petrels were like piranhas and they were loud.

Pintada petrels eating penguin remains

Pintada petrels eating penguin remains

Wilson's storm petrel

Wilson's storm petrel

Pintada petrel taking off

Pintada petrel taking off

Wilson's storm petrel hopping on water

Wilson's storm petrel hopping on water

Pintada petrels taking off

Pintada petrels taking off

The hotel department provided hot chocolate on our zodiac cruise by sending out a zodiac with hot chocolate and alcoholic fixings. The zodiac they used had a flag waving above that said “Hot Choco” in red.

The Hot Choco Pirates

The Hot Choco Pirates

The funny thing today was that many of the penguins seemed to be very clumsy. First we saw a chinstrap slip and fall on a cliff face, another chinstrap kept on slipping into the ocean because of the waves, and a macaroni penguin slid off a steep rock face after desperately trying to stay up right, and splashed into the ocean. My mom was putting into the little virtual speech bubbles above their heads “I meant to do that”.

 

GPS Track – From King George to Elephant Island, Antarctica

February 18th, 2010 at 10:01 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We arrived this morning at Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica around 7:15am (which coincided with when we work up). We spent the late morning on a Zodiac tour and doing a landing at Cape Lookout on the southwestern part of the island, where we encountered our first Macaroni penguins and elephant seals (after which the island is named).

In the afternoon we visited Point Wild on the northeastern part of the island (see previous post for some photos).

Tomorrow we’re due to make landfall in the South Orkney Islands.

The GPS track for the last day or so can be found below:

 

The Magnificence of Antarctic Glaciers

February 18th, 2010 at 9:51 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

One of the things that has been incredibly difficult to convey in my photography is the sheer size of Antarctica. Our visions of the Antarctic continent had always been of long flat expanses of ice and snow, but Antarctica is anything but flat. In fact Antarctica is the tallest continent in the world, and a fair bit of that height is actually ice (4000-5000 feet in some areas) composed in large part of glaciers.

Earlier today we were at Elephant Island, perhaps most famous for its role in the tales of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. Elephant Island is where Shackleton led his men on three small boats (the life boats of the Endurance) after breaking free of the pack ice in the Weddell Sea. Shackleton and several of his men continued on to find rescue on South Georgia Island, and managed to return to rescue the men he left behind on Elephant Island after several attempts to get though in the midst of the Antarctic winter. It took several months to rescue the men, during which time they set up a makeshift camp at a place dubbed Point Wild (after Frank Wild, the man Shackleton left in command). It’s a brilliant tale, and I would heartily recommend anyone wanting to see what true death-defying adventure is all about read the books on the Endurance by Alfred Lansing and by Caroline Alexander.

It was Point Wild we visited earlier today, and one of the most prominent features of the area at present is a glacier wall. This is not even close to the largest we’ve seen, which makes the photos I present below perhaps even more dramatic.

First, here’s a photo of a small part of the glacier wall. If you look carefully, in the lower right, you’ll see one of the National Geographic Explorer’s Zodiacs along with a Zodiac driver wearing a red parka. The Zodiac is perhaps 100 feet from the wall.

The glacier wall at Point Wild with a Zodiac and driver at lower right

The glacier wall at Point Wild with a Zodiac and driver at lower right

Next, here’s an image of the National Geographic Explorer in front of the glacier wall. The National Geographic Explorer is 367.4 feet (112 meters) long, and was anchored about 500 yards from the glacier. The glacier makes the Explorer look like a toy.

The National Geographic Explorer in front of the glacier wall

The National Geographic Explorer in front of the glacier wall

As a backdrop, the glacier is perfect. Here are some Chinstrap penguins on a spit of land quite some distance from the glacier.

Chinstrap penguins on a spit of land some distance from the glacier

Chinstrap penguins on a spit of land some distance from the glacier

Below is a close-up of the cracks in the glacier wall. The blue coloring is not an illusion. Glacial ice is very dense and contains little air. That density and water purity gives the ice that amazing blue color.

A close-up of the glacier wall

A close-up of the glacier wall

Here is an image showing a vertical slice of the glacier wall. You may be able to match the cavern at the bottom with some of the images above.

A vertical slice of the glacier wall

A vertical slice of the glacier wall

But if you look very carefully at the bit of rock sticking up out of the water at the lower right of the above image you might see a couple of black dots. Those dots are Chinstrap penguins. But if you can’t make them out, let me provide an enlargement of that part of the above image, immediately below:

Close-up of the lower right portion of the glacier wall vertical slice showing two penguins on the bit of rock

Close-up of the lower right portion of the glacier wall vertical slice showing two penguins on the bit of rock

I find the size of the glacier to be stunning, and in past days we’ve passed by hundreds of glaciers at least this big if not much bigger. Hopefully the above photos help give you some idea of how truly large things are here in Antarctica.

As a final image, let me leave you with the one below, which is a panorama composed of 23 individual shots stitched together. If you click on the image you can see the full size, 7763-pixel wide image (which is many megabytes). If you want to see a more reasonable size, click here.

This is a panorama of the glacier wall at Point Wild on Elephant Island in Antarctica - made of 23 adjacent images

This is a panorama of the glacier wall at Point Wild on Elephant Island in Antarctica - made of 23 adjacent images

Larger versions of all of the above images can be found at my Flickr site.