Just another penguin (Most amazing place on earth)

Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
Trip End Apr 28, 2010

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I may never leave this boat

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Morning: Cuverville Island

This morning, we woke up just off of Cuverville Island, which would be our landing spot for the morning.  As we were waiting to land, someone spotted a pair of whales outside the boat, and they stuck around for quite a while, swimming casually around the area.

After breakfast, we landed at Cuverville Island, which has the largest colony of Gentoo penguins in this area.  We landed among the iceburgs, then did a short hike to explore the area, before stopping to watch the penguins for a while.

One particular penguin was quite busy perfecting his nest, adjusting stones and twigs to make it perfect.  After a few minutes, he seemed satisfied and started to flap his wings.  He flapped faster and faster, for about 45 seconds, then let out a nice loud call, just in case he hadnīt attracted enough attention arleady.  Sure enough, almost immediately, another penguin (Iīll presume a female) came running up to see what all the fuss was about.  She hung around for a moment, circling and inspecting the nest, and she seemed to approve.  In fact, they seemed to get along quite well, and they stood there for a few minutes, but something must have happened because before I knew it, he was chasing the girl penguin away, biting at her as she left.  Once she was gone, the guy penguin went back to perfecting the nest, carefully stealing pebbles from a different nearby nest.

While I was busy watching this process, someone announced that, a ways down the beach, a leopard seal was hunting penguins.  Last night, there had been a lecture about seals, with a wee bit about leopard seals and penguins:

Although leopard seals primarily dine on kirll, like other seals in the area, about 35% of their diet comes from penguins and crabeater seal pups.  In March, when the baby penguins are venturing out to the sea for the first time, the leopard seals will occasionally patrol the beaches looking for an easy meal.  When they catch a penguin, though, they have to skin it -- leopard seals, apparently, donīt eat feathers.  To remove the feathers involves tossing the penguin back and forth and back and forth until that layer between skin and innards gives (think about eating chicken... you know how the skin isnīt really attached?).  The picture in the lecture was quite graphic, showing the seal with a firm grip on the penguins head, snapping the penguin away.  This caused the head, with the guts attached, to stay with the seal, while the exterior of the torso (with limbs and feathers) flew away.  This process, gross and bloody as it is, is repeated until the bird is effectively de-feathered.

At any rate, regardless of how bad you feel for the penguin in this case, it would still be an amazing sight to see, so John and I rushed down the beach, just in case. 

As it turns out, we arrived just in time, and just too late.  The leopard seal had, indeed, been patroling the beach, but was not close any longer.  Just before we arrived, he caught a penguin!  As we arrived, the seal was just offshore, near an iceburg, thrashing the penguin around just like in the lecture.  Awesome!!!!  Although it was too far away to see in detail, you could clearly identify what was going on, and you could see the pool of blood spreading through the water.

yeah... it was awesome.  (sorry penguins and vegetarians!)

While we were on land, the biologist on the boat had also decided that there would be a soap opera performed regarding penguin breeding biology.  So, with some volunteer actors from the group, we learned about how penguins make and care for new baby penguins.  It was a good laugh.

At this point, we still had plenty of time left on the island, so John and I returned to the far end of the penguin colony, and just sat and watched for a while.  One penguin approached and investigated John from behind.  Most of all, though, it was amazing to sit in near silence, with only a few people in sight, watching and listening as penguins went about their life with oceans, iceburgs and mountains in the background.  Oh, and a humpback whale surfaced near the shore while we were sitting there.

On the way back to the ship, we did a small zodiac cruise through the iceburgs, admiring the fantastic shapes and colors.  And we saw another leopard seal near the boat.

Back on board, we headed out of the bay, going north again towards our next destination.  On the way, before lunch, we saw more humpback whales (or maybe they were the same ones again, I donīt know).  During lunch, we saw whales out the window, including our first whale tail, which brought a round of applause from the dining room.  After lunch, we went up to the bridge and saw whale after whale, along with penguins and a seal on an iceburg.  Although it was still snowing lightly, the sun started to peak out as we approached Wilhelmina Bay, our next destination.  This created some fantastic reflections of the mountains in the amazingly calm waters.

As we came to a stop, another humpback surfaced near the front of the ship, and appeared as if it was going to stick around for a while.  Sure enough, he put on the most amazing whale show so far.  First, he swam a bit, clearly displaying his humped back.  Then we got a nice view of his tail as he dove under.  In the best move of all, he breached -- coming completely out of the water before crashing back down.  It was absolutely spectacular.  And after that, he still didnīt leave, but swam around some more, flapped his tail a bit, then rolled from side to side displaying flippers -- first one at a time then (apparently on his back?) both at the same time.  A bit of spyhopping (heading nose-first above the water), and some more swimming, the show went on for quite a while.

I couldnīt tell you how many whales there were, but for the next few hours, we sat and whale-watched from the ship, primarily watching the one who had put on the nice display.  Once again, though... this was just the morning!

Afternoon:  Absolutely Incredible 

After watching from the ship for a while, it was our turn to go out for a while on the zodiacs for a cruise around the bay.  Our first stop was a small pod of three humpback whales, not too far from the ship.  They were close, and in no hurry, and swam quite peacefully for quite a while.  One was in a show off mood, and he waved a flipper then shoed off his tail before we moved on.

Moving on, we made a quick photo stop at a nice iceburg.  We were about to leave again when someone saw a seal, so we stayed to watch.  As it turned out, there were two leopard seals, and they were both quite curious about the zodiacs.  As a result, they stayed to play for quite a while.  The iceburg was nice, and the seals were nice, but the combination was one of the most absolutely amazing things ever -- the iceburg extended quite a ways out, horizontally beneath the surface of the water.  The result was a shallow space with a fantastic aquamarine color, and this was the area where the seals and zodiacs were exploring.  It was exactly like being in an aquarium -- you could see to the bottom, and even when the seals were swimming under water, they were clearly visible, so it made for a fabulous show.  Wow.

Leaving these seals, we sped off insearch of the next attraction.  There was a seal in the water, but we zoomed past it -- apparently, it wasnīt interesting enough.  When we finally slowed, it was to watch another leopard seal, this one floating on an iceburg.  He was having quite a nice nap, and although he raised his head a few times to check us out, he was unimpressed, and snorted at us to go away.  So we did.

The next stop was a fourth leopard seal, this one also floating on an iceburg.  Then, for variety, we stopped to check out a fur seal floating on an iceburg.  This, apparently, is odd behavior for a fur seal, as they usually prefer land.  There were birds, too -- a whole flock of cape gulls on shallow small iceburgs, which gave the impression that they were walking on water, and several cormorants in the sky.

On the way back, we stopped to watch another humpback, who played a bit, flashing his tail twice, but after a minute, our driver/guide said we had had enough, and it was time to head back to the ship.  It was sad to have to leave while the whale was still visible, but (unfortunately for the guide, and for our time schedule) we had only made it perhaps half way back to the ship when we came across two MORE humpback whales putting on a show.  So we stopped to watch them for a bit, until they dissappeared.  Only, they reappared soon on the other side of the boat, this time having picked up a third whale, and played some more.  This time, though, we really did have to head back to the ship.

Back on board, while waiting for dinner, we watched a group of about six humpbacks swimming off the side of the ship.  For the remainder of that afternoon, it remained difficult to do anything without being distracted by the whales.  Finally, our recap and briefing meeting, after being repeatedly interrupted by small groups of whales, was terminated -- due to whales.  As we all rushed up to the bridge, there was an absolutely amazing sight -- many, many whales (perhaps 15? 20? More?) feeding right in front of the ship.  They were amazingly active, and there were humps, flippers and tails everywhere you looked until the sun finally set and it was too dark to see any more.

Without a doubt, and I know Iīve used this word too many times, this was the most amazing day.  Ever. 
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Kathy on

Again, WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

vivacious09 on

Can't see the videos for some reason, but the photos are amazing!!! WOW is right!

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