Our Antarctic Adventure – Part X

Tue, Feb 10th – In the Scotia Sea, enroute to Elephant Island

“Looking for the Penguin” – Quoted from our daily program

South-Georgia-glacier “When one thinks of Antarctic wildlife, penguins are often the first animals that come to mind. Indeed these graceful, yet comical; hardly elegant creatures are considered by many to be the signature species of the polar south. Early Antarctic explorers actually thought penguins were fish and classified them accordingly. In fact, as birds, they are superbly designed for their job, flying underwater with great skill. Their compact bodies have a breastbone that makes an excellent keel and they have massive paddle muscles to propel them at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. Their heads retract to create a perfect hydrodynamic shape. When traveling quickly, penguins will leap clear of the water every few feet – an action called ‘porpoising’. This enables them to breathe, and decreases their chances of being taken by a predator. Antarctic penguins have also developed the ability to leap out of the water to a substantial height on land/ice, enabling them to quickly reach the safety of raised ice or rock ledges.

Grytviken-South-Georgia-Kin Ashore they are often awkward, waddling and hoping over rocks; on snow the sometimes push themselves along on their stomachs. Of the 17 species of penguins, only four breed on the Antarctic continent itself; the Adelie, the Emperor, the Chinstrap and the Gentoo. Some species spend as much as 75% of their lives at sea, yet they all breed on land or sea-ice attached to land. To withstand the harsh conditions of the Antarctic, their bodies are insulated by a thick layer of blubber and a dense network of waterproof plumage. Some species can reach depths of 1000 feet or more and stay underwater for up to 25 minutes, though most prefer shorter, dives.”

During our transit from South Georgia to Elephant Island, we have observed small groups of penguins (species unknown) doing just what was described above. When I wintered at Hallett Station in 1962, I observed more of the above described activities first hand as, there, we lived amongst 50,000 Adelies.

From the Navigator

Cruising Antarctic waters is highly unusual in many aspects, not the least due to the fact that the itinerary is largely determined by ‘mother nature’. The Navigator’s normal rigid schedule can be completely disrupted by ice and meteorological conditions. However you can be assured of seeing spectacular natural scenery as we weave our way through narrow channels and bays. Early in the morning tomorrow (the 11th) we will be arriving in Antarctic waters.

It will be just a few days shy of 43 years since I first sailed these waters on the icebreaker USS Edisto. I am so thrilled to be coming back, especially since Barbara will be sharing it with me. She has waited all the years, as she was hoping there was some way she could have been with me back in ’65.

King-Penguin All day we have been traveling through foggy conditions, however just in the past hour, visibility has increased. Due to the fog, I have not been able to tell if our Wandering Albatross has been with us, however there have been two or three Cape Petrels been performing their aerial ballet back and forth across the stern of the ship all day. These are beautiful black and white petrels with a wing span of 35 inches. Once again they don’t look that big as the zoom past our window.

Also tomorrow is the beginning of commentary from the bridge by either our port lecturer Frank Buchingham or our two Expedition leaders. In addition to that, our chef’s will be serving hot soup at the “Soup Stations” and the beverage team will have delicious hot drinks at the same locations. The next three days are going to be so exciting – stay tuned! JWC

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