Today was a long, fulfilling day. We were up by 5:30 am for breakfast and out on a zodiac by 7 am. This morning was leopard seal overload! That’s what happens when you spend 5 hours zodiac cruising around Cierva Cove, home to the largest population of leopard seals in Antarctica. Truly fantastic to see these majestic creatures curiously checking us out. A bonus treat was spotting several minke whales in the cove. From Cierva Cove, we traveled through the Gerlache Strait and got to see several humpback whales. In the afternoon, we had several hours on Cuverville Island which is home to a gentoo penguin colony (5,000 pairs). We lingered on Cuverville until the last zodiac departed at 10 pm…what a day!
18 JAN: (Monday: Cierva Cove & the Gerlache Strait & Cuverville): 0530 wake up call…we were in a rush to get going and be ready by 0700 for zodiac cruising in Cierva Cove, home to the largest population of Leopard Seals on the Antarctic Peninsula. It is located in the Gerlache Strait, and there is a Primervera Base of several red buildings that is operated by the Argentinians. We lucked out during the zodiac cruise and got Hugh as our zodiac driver, and he was excellent. We spotted a lounging leopard seal (it was sleeping and we didn’t want to disturb it), two crab eater seals (they eat krill, not crabs), another young leopard seal that appeared as if it was molting but in reality, half of it was dry and the other half was wet! It started urinating shortly after we got there and woke him up, and was wallowing in its own poo. It impressed us with four gigantic yawns (wow…what a treat) and eventually it dived into the water, and circled our zodiac, checking us out in curiosity. We enjoyed watching it immensely, and tried to zodiac cruise closer to the Polar Star (there was a cool arch iceberg) but it was too cold, so we immediately retreated to hug the coastline. We saw several glaciers calving, causing a ripple effect with the ensuing waves. Luckily for us, we also saw a total of 9 Antarctic Minke Whales (the smallest baleen whale in Antarctic waters), with a pod of 3 at first, and later a pod of 6, one of which surfaced immediately next to our zodiac (we were all looking the wrong way so none of us got a good shot). After 5 hours of zodiac cruising, we thanked Hugh and returned to the Polar Star to warm up and have lunch (shrimp & pasta and chocolate mousse). We downloaded our photos and really like how the ones of the leopard seal came out…fantastic! The afternoon was spent traveling the Gerlache Strait, and a number of humpback whales frequented this area (they travel from Brazil to gorge themselves on krill). We were headed towards Cuverville Island in the Errera Channel. Cuverville is 60 miles from Cierva Cove, and has a Gentoo Penguin colony of about 5000 pairs.
At Cuverville we saw Gentoo colonies with lots of nests having 2 small chicks. There were small krill in the water so Ted got a bucket from the ship so everyone could see them. We saw the “Skua Club” where lots of Skuas hang out. There were some funny Gentoos slipping and sliding from high on the mountain side as they tried to come down in the snow. The staff offered zodiac cruising, but we opted to stay on shore as there were few icebergs and the water didn’t look as interesting as the sights on land. As we returned to the ship, the sun broke through the clouds and cast a nice yellow evening light on one of the snow covered islands in the distance. It was about 2200 when the last zodiac departed Cuverville and we were on it. We rinsed off on the Polar Star and took quick showers and did some laundry, hanging the wet laundry on our heater to dry. Tomorrow morning we enter the Neumeyer Channel at 0530, which is listed as “spectacular scenery” in Becky’s Antarctica guidebook. We’ll see!