An abundance of penguins blocked beach access at Paulet Island, our intended morning destination, but with just an hour’s further transit Tay Head offered both walks and the chance to explore ice both sculpted and tabular. As Joinville Island’s glaciers recede and reduce the weight of ice on the land, a number of raised gravel steps are now exposed, signifying the historic beach edge. Crossing these terraces, we roamed freely to view Weddell seals, calving tidewater glacier faces, and an Adélie penguin colony on the headland. Alternating groups cruised among the ice, at times angular, polished, and brilliant blue.
The fog rolled in just as we arrived at Heroina Island, part of the Danger Island group that forms the far eastern point of the Antarctic Peninsula. Undeterred, we boarded Zodiacs to cruise along the shoreline. Over 750,000 pairs of Adélie penguins nest here, greater than half the entire population of this species across the Antarctic Peninsula region, thus a diversity of colony-associated behaviors were on display. Individuals trudged up the snow on return to the nest while others leapt up onto, walked over, and dove off grounded icebergs blocking their typical pathway to the sea. Raucous calls and plenty of squabbles showcased the bold, gregarious Adélie character. Leopard seals in the shallows kept a watchful eye for unsuspecting penguins, a favorite snack, and we witnessed other seabirds dining on the aftermath of such an attack. With hot chocolate in hand, we watched Antarctica’s massive, awe-inspiring tabular icebergs fade into the distance as we sailed north towards Elephant Island overnight.