Icebergs, Adelies, and Whales!

Icebergs, Adelies, and Whales!

Paulet Island, Weddell  Sea.

Lat: 63° 34’ S, Long: 55° 47’ W

Wind: 2 Knt W, Temp: 1° C (8 AM)

Since early last evening, we’ve been seeing enormous icebergs as we make our way in the Weddell Sea.  These behemoths have captured the heart of everyone on board the ship…and it’s not unusual for all of us to jump up in the middle of a meeting and run to the windows or outside on the deck to start snapping photographs.  Every iceberg looks just a bit different, and the huge tabular ones are my favorite because they look like you could land an airplane on top of them.  They’re HUGE!  And, if you could zoom in on the photo below, to the bottom left, curved part of the iceberg, you would see penguins!  Amazing!  They look like pepper sprinkled on the iceberg.

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The icebergs we are seeing in the past two days have broken off (calved) from ice shelves within the Weddell Sea.  Now they are moving through the Antarctic Sound, with the help of wind and currents.  Some may become grounded on the Antarctic Continental Shelf, and some will continue to drift in the sea.  I’m fascinated by these giants and they evoke a sense of awe that is one of the best scenes nature has to offer.

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We are also seeing small bits of iceberg that have broken off from the larger ones and are now called “bergy bits.”  I never know which side of the ship to head to…port or stern, since the views from both sides are truly incredible.

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See all the “bergy bits” in the photo below?  They are beautiful…tiny compared to the mammoth icebergs.

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Ice shelves are platforms of ice that form where ice sheets and glaciers move out into the oceans. Ice shelves exist mostly in Antarctica and Greenland, as well as in the Arctic near Canada and Alaska. Icebergs are chunks of ice that break off glaciers and ice shelves and drift in the oceans.

Ice shelves and icebergs:

** raise sea level only when they first leave land and push into the water, but not when they melt in the water break off and melt as temperatures rise; in 2002, Antarctica’s huge Larsen B Ice Shelf shattered in only a few months, sending hundreds of icebergs into the ocean

** provide shelter for krill, and small fish that penguins, seals, whales, and sea birds eat

** are one important area of study for a wide range of scientists who study biology, glaciers, climate, and other field

** may hold clues to the future of ice sheets and glaciers in a world with warming temperatures.

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In comparison, sea ice forms when water in the oceans is cooled to temperatures below freezing. Most sea ice forms in the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans.  Right now it’s summer in Antarctica, and the area we are traveling in is free of sea ice.

Sea ice:

** does not raise sea level when it melts, because it forms from ocean water

** is closely linked with our planet’s climate, so scientists are concerned about its recent decline

** fills a central role in the lives and customs of native Arctic people

** provides a place for polar bears (in the Arctic), seals, and other animals to live

** is one way that scientists study the effects of climate change.

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Early this morning we knew we were getting close to our destination for today’s landing, because we started to see more penguins on ice floes and swimming alongside our ship.

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Sorry I couldn’t hold the camera still…it was windy!

The decks of the ship were really slippery this morning…it had snowed overnight.

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Everyone rushed to the top and side decks to get a better look!

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Today’s landing was a special treat.  Often the ships coming into this area are unable to land on Paulet Island because the ocean is too rough.  We were in luck and zodiacs were launched shortly after breakfast for a three-hour field trip, into the middle of a jam packed rookery of Adelie penguins.  Our guide, Mary-Anne told us that this particular spot can have up to 100,000 breeding pairs (that’s 200,000 individuals) of Adelie penguins.  They were everywhere!

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It was a bitter cold morning and everyone really bundled up for that zodiac ride to Paulet Island.  The moment we stepped on land, we were surrounded with the sights and sounds (and smells) of this massive nesting area of penguins.  The nests are pretty close together…about one penguin space between the nests.  This helps keep the eggs in the nests and penguins safe from the skua…the number one predator on land.  Unfortunately, this is not always a success story, as witnessed by the photos below.

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Nests are built above the snow line and also in areas where they won’t get flooded by snowmelt.  These nests of stone are reused each year and Mary-Anne mentioned that some of these nests have been used for hundreds of years.  Penguins are always trying to steal stones from each other’s nests, and it creates a lot of friction between the penguins.  That results in a lot of squawking and the penguins stand up tall, ruff up their feathers, and they wave their head back and forth while making lots of noise. Also, when approached the white of their eyes get larger.  It makes for a dramatic effect since the white stands out on their otherwise black head.

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It’s easy to tell which penguins have just finished up a swim in the ocean…their white feathers in front are clean and shiny as opposed to this penguin below.

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I felt lucky to catch a quick look at some of the eggs in nests because the penguins rise up a bit and rotate the eggs to ensure that all sides are kept warm.

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Here are a few extra facts about the Adelies:

** to go between the nests they make themselves tall and skinny

** penguins have two flipper-like wings

** they have dense outer feathers and soft downy feathers underneath

** there is an oil gland above their tail, they use the natural oil for grooming

** Adelies have a longer tail than other species

** the brood patch is actually a split in the abdominal feathers, this patch of skin underneath allows them to use their body heat to keep the eggs warm

** the brood patch can be closed when they go into the water to eat/swim

** it takes about 46-60 days to fledge a penguin (raise it until it is old enough to swim; they must have grown in their adult feathers by this point

** if a nest is on the periphery of the colony, it is more susceptible to skuas snatching the eggs

** penguins waddle, toboggan (slide on their bellies, and swim; they are most graceful and natural when swimming and look rather awkward when waddling on land)

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It was windy and snowing just about the entire time we were on Paulet Island this morning, which made for COLD conditions. If I kept moving I didn’t really notice it because I was so interested in every little detail about this huge colony.  Penguins make me smile…I think everyone in our group had a permanent smile on today…you couldn’t tell though because everyone had neck gaiters on.  I think the photo below will give you an idea of how many penguins were on Paulet Island…thousands!

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There was an historic stone hut built in the 1903 when a Swedish Antarctic Expedition was stranded after their boat, the Antarctic, was stuck in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea and was abandoned and later sank.  The ship had been mastered by Captain C.A. Larson (there is a Larson Ice Shelf named after him) from Norway.  The men spent 16 days dragging life boat over moving ice and eventually reached Paulet Island.  Twenty men helped build this stone hut to winter over on the island.  I cannot imagine how cold and miserable this experience would have been.

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This Adelie (and others) has found a good use for part of the old stone structure!

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Reluctantly we left Paulet Island, and headed back to the warmth of our ship.

Back on board, we had a long afternoon as part of the Homeward Bound leadership program. It was really interesting to explore the results of our Lifestyles Inventory diagnostic (LSI) and learn more about how certain styles influence the way we can become better leaders.  Group work was a big part of the afternoon…and I’m finding it really interesting to work with the other women from around the world.  We have common interests and stories, and we are all learning from each other

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As the sun was setting, a pod of Antarctic minke whales passed by our ship.  Everyone bolted for the windows or headed outside and you could hear squealing and shouting as the whales emerged from the water, only to disappear again quickly into the Weddell Sea.

The whale below might not be a minke, but we saw it earlier today.  I didn’t get a snap of the minkes because they were moving too fast and I just wanted to savor the moment and watch them as much as possible.  I love taking photos, but sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment and experience.

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Icebergs continued to dominate our view, and even as I write this, I can’t stop looking out the window to catch a view of what we are passing at the moment.  This place, Antarctica, captures your imagination and your heart.  It is truly incredible.  Enjoy the last few photos of the day!

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The birds below are NOT penguins.  We saw Antarctic cormorants today, nesting on Paulet Island alongside the Adelies.  It was funny to see black and white birds flying toward the sea…at first you stop and stare, then realize they aren’t penguins.

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The sunset combined with this tabular iceberg was gorgeous tonight!

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2 responses to “Icebergs, Adelies, and Whales!

    • Thanks, Mal! That last shot of the tabular iceberg and the sunset was one of my favorites that day. It’s hard to take your eyes off of such gorgeous icebergs and scenery! Sometimes I would stand in silence on the deck of the ship…just taking it all in. All of us were truly mesmerized! Betty

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