After two days at sea on board the Polar Pioneer, expedition ASG70, we crossed the infamous Drake Passage.  Our first land sighting was the South Shetland Archipelago.  The seas were rough but I was fortunate enough to be spared the dreaded mal de mar even without the aid of drugs. The crossing gave me a chance to practice my bird in flight shots.  The northern giant petrels are an intimidating, scavenging bird for sure, whilst the black-browed albatross soared effortlessly, high and fast above the ship.

As we reached the Palmer Archipelago we met the delightful gentoo and chinstrap penguins.  

Chinstrap antics at Hydrurga rocks

Despite Antarctica being a cold and mysterious ice desert it has an abundance of unspoiled wildlife.

The gentoo population is only some 300 to 400,000, but they are good travelers and as such the gentoo penguins inhabit the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions of our planet.

A fellow American expeditioner observed that the gentoo is the penguin equivalent of Australians; they seem to show up all over the place, looking to have a good time.

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Happy Feet

But it's not all fun and games being a gentoo. There's the nest to build in crowded rookeries and rocks to steal. And penguins don't have plumbing, so it is a bit of a hike back to the shore to wash off after a hard day's labour!

Gentoo rookery at Curverville Island

Our first continental landing was at Portal Point.  Some brave adventurers chose to dig themselves a snow coffin to sleep in overnight.  I on the other hand, took the opportunity to photograph the icebergs and mountains at sunset.  More like a long twilight, the time for this shot was around 9:30pm.


The Skua

If the gentoos are our heroes, then surely the skua are the villains.  These scavengers, feed off the dead and prey on the weak. Watch out!, gentoo nesters!

The highlight of the trip for me, was Paradise Harbour and a zodiac cruise around Skontorp Cove.  There was the faintest sprinkling of snow over still, still waters.  A misty cloud hung tightly above the mountains, but the glaciers and bergs rose like frozen towers creating dazzling reflections across the lagoon.

Skontorp Cove at Paradise Harbour

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No Mining

Veins of porphyry copper deposits, not unlike those found in Chile, can be seen from the rock faces. 

I'm not a geologist, but my guess is that the blue is chrysocollahydrated copper phyllosilicate and the greens, malachite and chalcocite.  Yellow might be chalcopyrite.


Weddell seal at D'Hainaut Is, Mikkelsen Harbour

Deception Island so named because it is actually the caldera of an active volcano! Once the site for a whaling station, it erupted in 1968 and the remaining ruins give the place a spooky feel not unlike an apocalyptic video game.  Evidence of the volcano is very much apparent as steam rises up from the black sandy shoreline.

The penultimate stop in Antarctica was Elephant Point at Livingstone Island.  Aptly named as the area is heavily populated with elephant seals.  The males develop the long proboscis after reaching 7 years of age.  Two adélie penguins dropped in to say hi and northern giant petrels were nesting in the area.  Then finally we reached Point Wild on Livingstone Island.  Home to Shackleton and his 22 crew who miraculously managed to survive on the point for four months until rescued in August 1916.  A bust of  Luis Pardo Villalón who captained the Chilean ship that rescued the survivors of the Endurance is perched on the perilous spit of land.

Upon heading to Elephant Point we came across a pod of some 30 fin whales!  At 24m long and 70 tonnes in weight they are the second largest animal on earth next to the blue whale.

As a tribute to this final frontier, I combined the charismatic gentoos against the spectacular Antarctic landscape to create my first wildlife video.