Sunday, 12 February 2012

Our Last Landing :^(

Brown Bluff
Photo © Andrew Wenzel

The weather was a mixed bag this morning.  Nothing bad but it started off sunny then became solid overcast which was followed shortly after by foggy, then sunny/cloudy again.  And all of that was before 10:00.  
Today was our day on the north east side of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Weddell Sea.

It’s a bit of a different world on this side of the peninsula.  This is the land of colossal icebergs.  Huge tabular icebergs break off ice shelves further south and drift ponderously northwards.  They are quite special to see and very different from ice bergs that have calved from a glacier.  Some of the icebergs we see over here are bigger than some of the islands on which we have landed.
At around 10:00 we were in Antarctic Sound. Very often large tabular icebergs collect in this area and today was no different.  We had made very good progress through the night and were ahead of schedule.  We would be able to make our landing at Brown Bluff a full two hours ahead of schedule!
View of Glacier at Brown Bluff
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
As we approached Brown Bluff it was easy to see how it got its name.  Huge brown cliffs stretched high above the landing site.  Andy and Torbjørn set red flags out to mark a trail up a steep moraine slope.  It was a bit of struggle to climb up the very loose moraine but the view at the top was worth it! 
Far below we could see the Gentoo and Adelie Penguin colonies.  A wall of brash ice and growlers lined the dark cobble-stoned beach from one end to the other.  There were approximately a dozen male Antarctic Fur Seals about 70 metres from the landing site.  Once they got used to our presence they quit growling at us, relaxed, lay down and continued their afternoon snooze.  
Brown Bluff
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
Quite close to landing site were several pairs of Kelp gulls with their chicks.  The chicks had shed their down and a few of them were already flying.
Throughout the landing a pair of Leopard 
Seals cruised up and down the beach looking for penguins to eat.  We saw at least two separate kills.  One of the Seals seemed to be toying with the penguins.  We saw the seal release a penguin and then go after it again.  We also witnessed a couple of penguins hobble onto the beach with severe injuries.  
Large tabular iceberg Fridjof Sound
Photo © Andrew Wenzel
It is a good time of year for Leopard Seals. The chicks are now venturing into the ocean for the first time.  Young inexperienced birds provide an easier meal for a ravenous seal.
We could see young Adelie chicks on some of the icebergs close to shore.  Some of them still sported tufts of fluffy down on their heads.
Shortly after 16:00 we were all back on the ship again.  The decision was made to voyage through picturesque Fridjøf  Sound and further into the Weddell Sea for more opportunities of large tabular iceberg watching.
Brown Bluff is a very special place.  It is one of the more beautiful landing sites in Antarctica.  It will remain extra special for all of us on this trip as it was, for many of us, our last landing in Antarctica.