South Orkney Islands

The South Orkney Islands are a group of islands in the Southern Ocean, about 600 kilometres north east of the Antarctic Peninsula. We visited Shingle Cove which is a small sheltered cove in the NW corner of Iceberg Bay, which is located on the southern coast of Coronation Island, the largest of South Orkney’s four main islands. There, we spent the day with an Adelie colony, a very smelly wallow of elephant seals, and some gorgeous icebergs.

12 JAN: (Tuesday: In the Scotia Sea to the South Orkneys): Banana pancakes for breakfast…yum! We caught part of Ted’s morning lecture about climate change in Antarctica and watched more of Curb Your Enthusiasm. After lunch, we attended Hugh Rose’s Antarctica Photographic Tips lecture which was great…it gave us an broad overview of what to expect. We had also signed up for an afternoon engine tour, where the Philippine staff gave us a quick overview of what they do below the third deck. Because of the engine tour, we had to skip Edward Rooks drawing class. Since today was a travel day, we had a lazy afternoon watching tv shows, reading, and getting caught up on sleep. Becky had a nice dinner discussion with Don Margolis, who retired early at age 50 from Toys R Us. More Curb Your Enthusiasm ensued after dinner since we decided to skip Craig Poore’s Southern Ocean History 101 lecture.

13 JAN: (Wednesday: South Orkney Islands and landing at Shingle Cove): It was a cold morning! We hopped in zodiacs slightly after 0600 (0500 wakeup and breakfast in observation lounge) and did a landing at Shingle Cove on S. Orkney Islands. The weather was brilliant at 0300 (so claimed by Robby who was on deck taking photographs of icebergs), but by 0600 the water was getting choppy and the wind was picking up. There were Pintado Petrels nesting by the waterfront, and we hiked up towards an Adelie colony where Becky witnessed two chicks get fed krill by one of their parents. One chick got such a huge ball of krill that it actually spit some out and we could make out the remnants of krill bits on the ground (krill looks just like shrimp in case you were wondering). We also saw a horrific attack on a large chick by some skuas. Two chicks had been playfully chasing their parent down by the waterfront and once their parent disappeared into the water, they dejectedly climbed uphill to return to the colony. The wily skua had been watching them separate from their protective crèche, and decided to attack an unlucky chick. Its murder took an excruciating 30 minutes, where a skua (assisted by its mate) blinded the chick, and repeatedly struck it over and over again and eventually they were both able to engorged themselves on its intestines. It was extremely shocking to witness, and it is rare for such a large chick to be picked apart by the skuas like that. Their work was in vain though, as eventually a large petrel stole the chick’s remains and finished the carcass off. The wind started picking up, so the zodiac cruising was cancelled and our landing time was reduced from 6 hours to 4 hours, with the last zodiac departing at 1000. It was freezing cold with the wind blowing. The molting section of elephant seals was disgustingly smelly, and the Adelie colony was full of dark pink/brown poo, which made for a smelling and dirty guano mess. We caught a zodiac back with Doug and Ted and since Becky was sitting up front, she got absolutely soaked and sprayed by the tumultuous sea. After getting back on the Polar Star, we filmed another zodiac disembarking its passengers, before retreating to the observation deck for some warm hot chocolate.

Oh, time for a nap! We caught a cat nap before lunch of vegetable soup, beef kebabs and falafels. We were joined by Ted, Doug and Patrick, and discussed the dangers of travel in Africa before the captain made an announcement that a 3 mile long tabular iceberg had been spotted. We grabbed our cameras and ran on deck, but it was hard to give the enormous iceberg any perspective…it was simply too long and massive. We are both naughty students…we skipped drawing class again to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm and take a nap. Poor Ed…we hope he doesn’t take it too personally as he is an excellent instructor! We attended an afternoon lecture by Tom Murphy on his photo editing process (he is really big on eye contact with the animals), and how you have to be brutal in getting rid of the photos that just don’t work, no matter the sentimental attachment you may feel towards them.

Just before dinner, we got the second and final installment of Hugh Rose’s excellent Antarctic slideshow, where he displayed some of his favorite landing spots…filling all of us with anticipation of what we were about to see in the upcoming days. Dinner was great….shrimp/avocado appetizer, potato soup, and duck with pasta and slices of parmesan. Afterwards, stayed up and watched David Attenborough’s “Life in the Freezer, Ep 1: The Bountiful Sea”…excellent filming crew. We may just have to purchase the DVD.

14 JAN: (Thursday: SW into the Weddell Sea and enroute to Paulet Island): Got an early morning (0555) wakeup call for the first sighting on an Emperor Penguin. Too bad he was way off in the distance. Later on we had two sightings of leopard seals, one way off and the second one we awoke quite by surprise, and he gave us a nasty growl in response. Ate breakfast and talked to Ann Beisser, who is from Arizona. Her plan with her trip photos were to mount them in a hospital wing in her city, which we thought was a generous and thoughtful contribution. After talking to many of our fellow passengers who often took GIGAGE of photos each day (we’re talking over 40 GB in one landing alone), we were curious what everyone was going to do with their photos, especially if they weren’t professional photographers earning their living through photography.

Afterwards, we both attended Ross’s lecture on “Overwintering in Antarctica” which was excellent….very informative and entertaining. Lunch was good: grilled ham & cheese, asparagus soup, and ice cream. Ate with Mark Van Bergh (a lawyer who has been to Africa several times for wildlife photography) and Bob & Marcia Turner (from New York, who had also been to Africa several times). After lunch we attended a 2 hour photo critique with Rod Planck and Tom Murphy, learning what they like and didn’t like about several dozen photos. Afterwards, there was a group slide show which had quite a few contributions and lasted about 45 minutes. Everyone else got cozy with the happy hour drink special, but we came back down and drank in our room for free 🙂 Dinner was good (pork loin for Becky & salmon for Robby), and we enjoyed the company of Doug & Ulai from Thailand and Ann & Kandy from Arizona. We heard about the National Geographic photographer that “befriended” a large, 12 foot leopard seal in Antarctica who kept trying to feed him penguins, and when he didn’t accept the gift, she grew increasingly aggressive towards him…very interesting! Ann and Kandy recommended that if we hadn’t seen it already to buy the “Planet Earth” series, which they said was phenomenal.

After dinner we headed to the Observation Lounge to watch Ross in a documentary created by a South African husband and wife duo which chronicled the work that the South Africans were conducting down in Antarctica…it was interesting with some nice footage. The weather was stormy and the boat was rocking hard as we went to sleep…not looking good for tomorrow morning.

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