Paulet Island is home to a large Adelie penguin rookery (over 100,000 pairs). We spent a spectacular morning zodiac cruising around the island watching as penguins leapt off icebergs en masse. The rest of the day was on shore where we spent hours mesmerized and entertained by the adelie penguins’ antics. Interesting historical side note: in 1901 to 1903, a Swedish geologist named Otto Nordenskjöld led an expedition to this region on a ship named the “Antarctic”. The ship was under the command of Norwegian whaling captain Carl Larsen, who inadvertently trapped the vessel in ice, causing it to sink. Forced to overwinter in 1903, all but one of the shipwreck survivors made it out alive by building a stone hut (Nordenskjöld Hut) and eating the Adelie penguins. This was a great first stop on the Antarctic Peninsula…we can’t wait to see what the upcoming week brings!
15 JAN: (Friday: Paulet Island & Weddell Sea): God must love us…he blessed us with a spectacular day today. We pulled into Paulet at around 0730 but due to thick ice conditions, were unable to pull into our originally desired anchor spot, so we had to chug around the island for an alternate anchoring. After breakfast, we got dressed and joined everyone else on deck to hop into the zodiacs. The weather was amazing…calm, beautiful, sunny and smooth. Paulet Island is always hit or miss on previous trips to Antarctica…the last few trips it had been awful, with slick hills that are supremely difficult to negotiate (Lois broke her leg here primarily because she was carrying too much gear, but also because of the slick conditions). We decided to zodiac cruise first, and hopped into a zodiac with Rod. We first zoomed over to a few icebergs to watch the penguins hop on and off, and witnessed a zodiac rescue. Poor Tom had navigated his zodiac into a tight spot that set up all his clients for a spectacular view of penguins hopping off. The current shifted suddenly, and two icebergs trapped his zodiac in between them. Unable to pull his zodiac out, Bruce had to come to the rescue and assisted in towing Tom’s zodiac out of the predicament. All the passengers had to get out and stand on the iceberg in order to lift the zodiac up and out…we captured it on film for posterity.
Afterwards, we headed over to take a couple of iceberg photos…we were only supposed to get one hour of zodiac cruising but because no one was waiting on shore, Rod was able to give us two hours of uninterrupted cruising. We hit the landing spot at 1145 and head off down towards the Nordenskjöld hut. Paulet Island was home to Anton Larsen and 17 of his crew from the Antarctic, a vessel supporting a Swedish expedition in 1901-1903. The ship was crushed in pack ice and the men were able to seek refuge on Paulet Island. They spent the winter of 1903 in the stone hut, eating penguins to survive. One sailor died, and his graveyard is completely surrounded by penguins, so it was impossible for us to visit it. Paulet island is in a conical shaped volcanic island, and it houses a massive Adelie penguin rookery. There were more than 100,000 breeding pairs of penguins, and we could see their pinkish guano stained suburbs from the Polar Star. Penguins stretched across the island from the landing zone up the top of the high ridges.
Scavenging sheathbills weren’t shy at all! If they thought any remnant of your clothing, boots, or camera gear was edible, they’d try like hell to eat it. There were a few nesting Imperial shags, and we could see dozens of empty nests up on the hill side. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the shags were off at sea or on an iceberg…we saw them flying home en masse later that afternoon, reassuring us that their presence had not been diminished on Paulet. Most of the afternoon was spent getting sensory overland from the thousands of Adelies. We watched as they mated, fought, crooned, stole rocks from their neighbors, built nests, fed their young, and cleaned themselves off from all that guano goo…a very beautiful day. We finally left on one of the last zodiacs, (skipping lunch) and grabbed some hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies in the lounge. To our happy surprise, dinner was bumped up to 1830, and we had steak enchiladas and enjoyed Doug & Gail’s company. Some of the passengers were complaining bitterly to Doug about a couple who rudely hogged their zodiac. Apparently, there were a lot of disgruntled passengers who complained that some of their fellow shipmates were not as courteous as they should be…we weren’t sure who they were referring to but were glad that our fellow zodiac cruisers had been considerate so far. After dinner, we hung out on deck until 2100, talking to the aptly named Finn (our Finnish passenger wearing a decorative Moroccan outfit) and admiring the mirror smooth surface conditions. We took showers and washed our stinky dry bags and hung our jackets outside in the hallway to dry. The ship is starting to stink of guano goo…nasty!