Thursday, 9 February 2012

Neko Harbor: a class of its own and Cuverville Island

At Neko Harbor the view in every direction provides a spectacular scene of mountains and ice. Today was especially memorable as the sun broke through the clouds and we could clearly see the ridgeline of alpine glaciers that descend from the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula and calve into the sea. The short stretch of water between the Fram and our landing location was cluttered with rapidly moving small to medium sized pieces of recently calved icebergs.

For most of us our Polar Circle boat ride to shore was uneventful, but 2 or 3 boatfuls of us were fortunate to have a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) pass quite near us. The large males have dorsal fins up to 1 meter (3 feet) high and these can be easily seen when they breach the waters surface to breathe. We were also fortunate to have several Minke whales circle the Fram and our Polarcircle boats.

The Neko Harbor penguin colony and the much larger Cuverville penguin colony that we visited later this afternoon are both Gentoo Penguin colonies. At both colonies there were a few large chicks but at both sites there were many recently hatched chicks. It is questionable if these chicks born near the end of the Antarctic summer season will survive. Two factors work against their survival, their down coat does not insulate them or shed water when rain or sleet soaks them. The second factor is that juvenile penguins must fully molt their down and grow their shiny specialized feathers, before the sea surface freezes and they have to head to open water at the ice edge to feed.

Our perfect weather day closed with the Fram crew and the Expedition staff serving as, quite amateur, models and strutting around the Observation Lounge wearing some of the colorful and fashionable items that are available in our ships store.