May 9, 2009
Because the ship (L.M. Gould) with the whale team was coming in on Sunday, which is usually the day off for the employees of Palmer Station, the day off was moved to Saturday. Fortunately, the fish dissections were at a point that the fish team was also able to get out of the lab and enjoy the day. There are tons of activities that are available - telemark skiing or snowboarding on the glacier, hiking to Bonaparte Point or boating in the Zodiacs to explore the nearby islands. The majority of us chose to hop in the boats and get to the islands. First we headed to the southernmost island in our range, which is Cormorant Island. Webster did a great job driving us there and maneuvering between the ice flows. Along the way, we saw several different groups of seals at various points along the back of Anvers Island. Kristin was really a good spotter of these and kept pointing them out! Great pictures! Once we got tied up and out of the boat at Cormorant (let me tell you, too, this is no easy feat - the boat driver gets us to the spots where the D-rings are mounted in the rocks to tie to and then with periodic waves pounding the rocks, you have to make a stretch onto the rocks in the four layers of clothes that hinder agile movement while keeping you warm. Fortunately, everyone is very thoughtful of others and offers hands to help until we are all across. Not to mention, the Zodiac drivers, such as Webster, do an awesome job keeping us close to the rocks. It was not always the most graceful exit from the Zodiacs for me, but the motivation was to not get soaked by the freezing water and get up on the rocks as quickly as possible), we were greeted by three large elephant seals napping - which is something they seem to do often! The seals lifted their heads to check us out, obviously decided we were not their next meal and essentially ignored us after that. The sun was out and the wind was down, which made for incredible photo opportunities. We saw some fur seals, too on the island - and my favorite was a juvenile fur seal that woke from a nap to check us out. It had the cutest little earflaps and stretched out so we could snap some good shots. Unfortunately, no penguins were on the island, but we saw some tracks in the snow with their little flippers and belly tracks. We loaded back onto the boats with the same challenges of getting off the rocks into the boat as were getting onto the rocks from the boat! We headed back to station and several others went back out to explore. As we were warming up with some lunch, there was word on the radio that penguins were spotted on a nearby island. They came back to get us and we headed to Janus Island. I was so excited because up until this point, I had only seen one penguin on Humble Island and one that came up at Palmer Station one evening.
On Janus, we hiked around to the opposite side from where we tied up the Zodiac and there they were, 50 or more Adelie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae). As we sat there and watched them and took pictures, more and more started to appear as it was getting closer to sunset (about 3:45 p.m.). They seemed to magically appear from the water each time the waves crashed up on the rocks! Seeing them was just magical. I could have sat there all day watching them waddle around, squawk and groom themselves. The penguins also had a ball playing around and swimming in some of the pools of water around the rocks. We all took tons of pictures, stayed as long as we could before our boating hour curfew was up and headed back to station as the full moon came up over the mountains nearing sunset. What a splendid planet we live on.