Today’s idyllic cruise through the waters of Bransfield Strait was preceded by a crisp, bright morning spent watching for marine wildlife. Turning towards the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula, we left the Weddell Sea behind and found ourselves in new waters. As we passed Tower Island, we had marvelous views of various icebergs, including tabular ones, and we watched the scenery from the ship’s snowy decks.
Bill Press, from the Betchart travel group, gave a talk entitled “Science at the South Pole,” in which he discussed how this remote place affects the rest of the world. However, he was interrupted by the arrival of two humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) that were demonstrating logging behavior. Resting at the surface and breathing peacefully, they seemed perfectly relaxed. We watched them for several minutes as the ship bobbed quietly near them. After Bill’s talk finished, naturalist Jonny Reid gave a presentation on the acoustics of the ocean. He revealed the various sounds that fill the waters beneath us, from the clicking of krill to the songs of the whales we had just watched to the noises generated by humans and how those noises affect this delicate environment.
Revived by lunch, we were ready for the landing that took place at Mikkelsen Harbour. The old whaling site is home to hundreds of gentoo penguins. These bright, active birds bobbled along penguin highways, conversed in their braying voices, and stole small stones from each other’s nests, barely seeming to notice the presence of strangers. More often than not, they were engaged in neighborly disputes! Several Weddell seals lounged on the snow, occasionally flapping a flipper. Perhaps most memorably, several of the penguins occasionally stood up from their nests to change position, revealing the egg they were incubating.
Meanwhile, those who were not ashore enjoyed Zodiac cruising as they visited islands and icebergs around the harbour. The harbour is ringed by icy mountains, and the water’s tropical color is deceiving. The sun was shining brightly, and porpoising penguins and a minke whale brought the grandeur of the landscape to life.
Soon, we were all ready for dinner and enjoyed a meal surrounded by a majestic range of mountain peaks.