Danco Island and Wilhelmina Bay

Danco Island and Wilhelmina Bay

Danco Island, Errera Channel.

Lat: 64° 43’ S, Long: 62° 36’ W

Wind: 13 Knt SW, Temp: 0° C (9 AM)

Whilhelmina Bay, Gerlache Strait, Ice Platform Landing. Lat: 64° 37’ S, Long: 62° 13’ W

Wind: 2 Knt W, Temp: 2° C (6 PM)

This was our first (and only, other than the Drake Passage) day off from Homeward Bound leadership, strategic, science content, and visibility training, so you would think we would all rest.  But…Greg had arranged a couple of wonderful field trips for the day.  He’s always trying to find us the best locations to land or cruise in the zodiacs!  Today was the first day I spotted another ship nearby, although I think there was one other but I missed it.  So far it’s seemed like we are a tiny ship all alone in the vast Southern Ocean.  Each time we go to shore, as I look back at the Ushuaia it seems so small.  Can you see the Ushuaia peeking out from behind those icebergs in the photo below?

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It amazes me that Greg, Monika, and sometimes our zodiac drivers and even the ship’s doctor have to stand in the icy cold water to help us get out of the zodiacs each day.  At least today was a calm landing…no waves.

Our first stop was Danco Island, which lies in the southern part of the Errera Channel.  The rocky beach was similar to others we’ve landed on, but this time there were chunks of ice all over the beach, similar to bergy bits we’ve seen in the ocean.  The shapes and sizes are all unique, and I particularly like the mini-bergs that are clear ice.  They remind me of ice sculptures.

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Many Homeward Bounders climbed up a steep snowy dome-shaped hill to get a good view, but I chose to walk along the shore, with friends, and also alone.  Meandering near the water’s edge I stopped to sit on a rock and watch the Gentoo penguins gallivanting in and out of the water.  I just love their quirky style and movement on land, and their smooth gliding and turning about in the water.  The variations in movement on land and in the water are vastly different, as are the movements of seals. Special adaptations for adept movement in the ocean are key to survival, feeding, and migration.

Gulls and terns glided overhead. Bergy bits were drifting by, coming out of the channel.  Massive glaciers clung to the mountains and crevasses varied from small slits in the ice and snow, to huge gaps which looked ready to separate, with snow/ice crashing down at any moment.  Low clouds formed a sort of cotton candy look masking the tops of the mountains.  I could barely see our ship because so many icebergs blocked my view.

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While wandering along the shore I bent down to investigate life in a small tidepool.  At low tide some rocky areas still have small pools of water in them…and usually these are fun areas to see some ocean life.  I marveled at the tiny fish and crustaceans frantically darting to and fro.  Watch the video below to get an idea of what I saw.  I have always been fascinated by the life in tidepools, and even more so with today’s polar tidepools due to the harsh environment here.  The marine life is abundant and so varied, and I can sense the importance of every single member of the complex Southern Ocean food web.

Back on board for lunch, we had some “down” time while the ship sailed for our next destination.  I know how much we all needed to just chill out, and get ready for a big night! Kris Kringle (Christmas) gifts (we pulled a name out of the basket) and a costume party!  I wanted to dress up as something related to science, and had brought a costume with me.  I was the Southern Lights, the Aurora Australis. It won’t be dark tonight, but during the long polar winter people stationed to “winter over” (spend the winter at a research base) would be treated to these colorful and mesmerizing lights dancing in the sky.

A late afternoon excursion to Wilhelmina Bay proved to be pretty awesome.  Greg had gone to shore to check out the “fast ice,” which is last year’s ice that hasn’t broken apart or melted yet.  He had to test the strength and thickness of the ice to ensure our safety.  The ice was an estimated 2 meters thick, so it was decided that our landing could take place.  The zodiacs pulled right up on the edge of the ice…and it felt very strange to be walking on the fast ice, knowing that sometime this “summer” it could possibly be broken apart and gone…floating out into the bay and melting and/or moving.

Wilhelmina Bay is approximately 24 kilometers (15 miles) wide.  The bay is between the Reclus Peninsula and Cape Anna along the west coast of Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula.  Discovered during the Belgian Antarctic Expedition that took place in 1887-1899, led by Adrien de Gerlache, the bay is named for Queen of the Netherlands, Wilhelmina, whose reign was from 1890 through 1948.  Many people refer to this bay as “Whale-mina Bay” because of the abundance of humpback whales in the area.  The spectacular scenery is dramatic because the bay is surrounded by gorgeous steep cliffs with mounds of snow and glaciers spilling right down to the sea.

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As is now quite familiar, we were not alone on this stretch of ice.  A few crabeater seals were lounging and had no issue posing for us!

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Check out the wide open mouth on this seal below.  If you can zoom in you can see its teeth!

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When I dug down with the heal of my boot into the loose snow on the surface, I could see that beautiful blue tint that has now become an everyday occurrence.

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Back on the Ushuaia, the scene after dinner was spectacular…a moody sky with beautiful lighting.  Once again, it was hard to stop snapping photos.

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Depending on which side of the ship I went to, the light changed.  Blue sky always managed to show through the clouds.

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The party was about to start and everyone was decked out in their costumes.  Kathleen was sporting the pirate theme!  My lights don’t show up in this photo, but inside I was blinking through my purple and green fabric…lighting up like the Aurora Australis.

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Here’s an image I found on http://www.kval.com of the Aurora Australis seen from McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  The colors in this aurora are similar to those of my costume tonight.

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Niina and I…posing at the party!  She actually does a lot of cross country skiing in her home country of Finland.

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The Kris Kringle gift exchange was fun, and a little taste of home and the holidays.  It’s hard to believe we are all missing the ramp up until Christmas, although down here you are guaranteed a white Christmas!

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As always, our little pals were nearby…hanging out on a passing iceberg.  I feel so lucky to be on this journey with so many incredible women in science.  I’m learning from them and with them each day of this voyage.

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