We’ve seen a lot on this trip so far: the city of Buenos Aires, Tierra del Fuego National Park at the bottom tip of Argentina, the birds flying near the ship on the Drake Passage. But for many of us, the part where things really start to get real is when we finally get to see penguins. And we are definitely seeing penguins.
Many of the passengers saw their first penguin three nights ago around midnight, as we sailed through the Melchior Strait on our way to our first Antarctic stop, Paradise Harbour. I missed this, as I was asleep in my cabin, but I’m told that a pod of orca whales escorted the ship for a while—and then the passengers saw a single chinstrap penguin, stranded on an ice floe. Apparently the orcas had chased it up out of the water, and the general consensus was that the penguin was in big trouble. People didn’t see what happened next, but we think the night did not end well for the penguin.
But the following morning we had much happier, and more numerous, penguin sightings. We saw a handful of Gentoo penguins on our morning Zodiac cruise at Paradise Harbour, and then we visited a colony of Gentoos on our afternoon visit to Dorian Bay. There actually were at least three or four colonies there, and we hiked up a gentle hill to a point where we could stand just 20 feet or so from one of the colonies. See the photo above.
The light on the penguins was great, and we all had a super time watching them and their chicks (who, according to the expedition guides, are less than two weeks old).
We also watched them fend off a brown skua that landed at the edge of the colony. Skuas prey on penguin eggs and even penguin chicks, so this guy was an unwelcome visitor, and eventually the penguins harassed him enough that he flew off.
After we came back down the hill, we gathered some of the Penn State contingent for a quick group photo.
Since then, we’ve cruised the Lemaire Channel and done landings at Port Charcot and Danco Island. Right now we’re on our way to a more commonly visited site: Deception Island, in the South Shetland Islands just above the Antarctic Peninsula.