Sunday 26 December 2010

Rare Sightings, Ice Bergs & Research

The morning found us sailing south towards South Orkney in glorious blue skies and warming rays of the sun. Whilst enjoying yet another scrumptious breakfast buffet, prepared by Chef Johan and his able team, we were entertained by the elegant flight paths of the Cape Petrels. In fact so many Cape Petrels were around the ship, that we realised we were seeing a rare event indeed, first described by Oy and Winterbottom in World Avian Nature Knowledge circa 2008, A Chardine Agglomeration. A Chardine Agglomeration is described as a mass of birds surrounding a ship South of the Antarctic Convergence, which we crossed at 0440. Chardine Agglomerations are predominantly associated with Cape Petrels, however, they have also been observed with Prions, Fulmars, Giant Petrels and Albatross. Soon after we saw our first iceberg of the trip.
Leaving the Chardine Agglomeration behind in our jewel laden wake, we steamed into the Iceberg laden Washington Strait. We were greeted with majestic new..ish tabular icebergs which have made their way north from the Weddell Sea, and older bergs which have rolled and tumbled several times. Pods of penguins porpoised out of the bow waves of the ship, and several were seen resting on the ice bergs - leaving many to wonder how they got so high up on ice bergs - one then remebered how motivating a leopard seal behind could make you.
Over lunch, we were able to make a landing at the oldest continuously operated research station in the Antarctic, the Argentine Base Orcadas, which has been manned since 1904. The crew of the station were delighted to show us around their facility, and we think more than that, they enjoyed being able to talk to fresh (female!) faces after 11 months duty at the station. They were counting down the remaining thirty days till the end of their season at that station. As we left the beach at Orcadas, Adelie and Chin Strap Penguins seemed to be pointing us in the direction of our next historic stop, weather permitting Elephant Island.....