Tuesday, 28 February 2012

An exceptional day at Cuverville and Lockroy

Fram from Cuverville Island
photo by Anke Timmerberg

We awoke and enjoyed breakfast as the Fram motored through the scenic and windy Gerlache Strait. As we arrived at Cuverville Island we could see a new-fallen layer of snow covering the beach and the hill-sides. The wind decreased and the sun broke through the clouds, in a word our landing was perfect. The gentoo penguin colonies were active and most of the birds that were born early this summer have now lost their down and are full-sized. They now enter the water to feed on their own. There were two other notable occurrences to report: Firstly we sighted a very rare all-white gentoo chick.

All white Gentoo chick
Photo by Anke Timmerberg

Secondly we saw some recently hatched chicks. Our ornithologists told us these chicks and the other very young penguins that we saw will not survive. There is not enough time before the winter sea-ice forms for these birds to loose their down and grow to the nearly adult size that they must reach to take open water and feed themselves. Such is mother nature.

After lunch we headed through scenic Neumeyer Channel on our way to our afternoon landing at Port Lockroy. By now the sky was overcast but there was no wind and the landing was smooth. The area around Port Lockroy was explored by the members of the first French Antarctic Expedition. The expedition leader was Jean Baptiste Charcot and he named the site for a French politician who helped him obtain funding for the expedition. During WWII the British occupied the site and built several buildings. The purpose of this base was to look for enemy shipping in the region. After the war the buildings were used as a base for geologic and biologic field parties and for atmospheric research. Early research and mapping was done by the members of the Falkland Island Dependency Survey and later the research was carried on by the British Antarctic Survey. As a research base Port Lockroy closed in 1962 and was not restored and re-opened as a museum until 1996. In 2006 the base facilities plus museum, post office and store functions were turned over to the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. The Trust is uses the profit margin funds from the sale of books, stamps and clothing to maintain or restore Antarctic historic sites. Today we did our part in the museum store to support this good cause.
On our way from the museum and store to the landing site we were able to watch a leopard seal dine in a gentoo penguin.

Leopard seal eating penquin off Port Lockroy
photo by Anke Timmerberg
In the course of dinner there was an announcement from the Captain and the Expedition Leader. We have a medical emergency onboard. As a result we are now underway northward to the Chilean Base on King George Island. From the March-Frei Base the patient can be air-med-evacuated to Punta Arenas.