Antarctica (Day 3) Antarctic Sound (2019)
The morning of February 5 found us in the Antarctic Sound, at the northeast corner of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Antarctic Sound is not, as one might expect, named after the continent. Instead, it is named after the ship that transported the 1902 Swedish Antarctic expedition here. The six scientists were to winter over on Snow Hill Island, then the Antarctic would pick them up again in the summer. But the ship was prevented by floating ice from reaching the island the next summer. The ship was locked in by the ice, which eventually crushed its hull. The Antarctic crew was able to reach Paulet Island, where they spent the next winter, surviving by eating about a thousand penguins. The original group had no idea what had happened or why the ship failed to return, and had no option but to spend another winter on Snow Hill Island. The next Spring the two groups met by chance while exploring in Hope Sound. An Argentine ship was sent to find them when the Antarctic failed to return. We heard a slide lecture about this expedition while we were here; quite harrowing and the series of unlikely coincidences that led to the rescue would sound entirely implausible if set out in a novel. But it was real & the stone huts in which the groups wintered are still there, although we didn’t see them.
As we entered Hope Bay we passed a large Argentine science station.
Base Esperanza (“Hope”) was built in 1953 on a spot that had housed a naval post since 1930. Some 55 people live here year round (out of a capacity of 100) . What is unusual is that it is set up as a village, with about 10 families including children. This was part of Argentina’s effort to establish sovereignty over the Antarctic Peninsula (Chile has a similar settlement in Antarctica for the same reason). In 1978 the wife of the station’s leader was flown here when seven months pregnant to record the first birth in Antarctica, Emilio Marcos de Palma, and over the next few years there were seven more births. The community has a regular school, a radio station, an infirmary, a chapel, and a scout troop. There is a stone hut nearby where three of the Swedish expedition spent the winter of 1903, living on seal meat, but we didn’t see it.
The base also has a bust of General San Martin, the liberator of Argentina.
You probably notice a lot of penguins hanging about in these pictures. In fact, Esperanza Base was built in the middle of a large penguin rookery, so the penguins have a pre-existing claim to the space. Hope Bay is actually quite full of penguins, more than 200,000 according to what we have read (down about 17% over the last 25 years). They were everywhere, inside the base and out. Most of the penguins in this area seem to be Adelies. Given how bad penguin habitats smell, living in this settlement must take some getting used to!
In addition to the penguins, seals were lounging on the ice. We think they were mostly Weddell seals, but who knows for sure.
Apart from the wildlife, Hope Bay was full of icy scenery.
Leaving Hope Bay we passed Esperanza Base again. Yep, the penguins were still there, standing around waiting for something to happen.
As we headed out of the bay we spotted penguins in the water and Giant Petrels in flight.
The Antarctic Sound has a lot of floating ice, including large flat icebergs that have broken off from the Larsen ice shelf in the Weddell Sea. These are called tabular icebergs because they are flat like tables. Some are so big they run aground in the Sound, where the can sit for years until worn away by sea and wind forces.
You may wonder how the ship manages to navigate safely among the icebergs. Throughout the Antarctic portion of our voyage there was an experienced ice pilot on board to guide the way. During a Q & A following the Antarctic portion of the cruise he was asked just what his role was on the bridge. He said “I sit there and I say ‘See that iceberg over there? Don’t hit it.’” We are pretty sure he does a good deal more than that.
We approached pretty near that large tabular iceberg you saw above. We were told that it was about a mile long, and it was taller than the ship. That means it reaches pretty far down under the water, perhaps far enough that it was anchored in place on the bottom.
As the ship held its position by the iceberg a small boat was sent out with the ship’s photographer and some members of the Antarctic expedition team. Their mission was to take pictures of the ship next to the iceberg. At about the same time Rick went down to the platform in the very front of the ship to take in the view from that location.
After the photographs of the ship were done, the folks on the boat didn’t want to come right back. They spent some time at a nearby iceberg photographing penguins (who wouldn’t want to do that?).
While he was on the bow Rick took some pictures back toward the ship.
You might have thought we were done with wildlife for the day, but you would be wrong. Still lots of penguins out on the ice. We were told last time we were here that penguins out on the ice probably means there are Orcas or leopard seals in the water hunting. We didn’t see any of those, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t there. We did see some penguins diving into the water from the ice, so maybe that wasn’t the case this time. You can tell when a penguin is about to dive because it first bends its neck far forward.
We also saw some penguins sharing an iceberg with a seal.
Birds — including Cape or Pintado (painted) petrels, giant petrels and what we think were Antarctic shags (cormorants) – were flying around the ship and hunting low over the water. We also saw some whales, although not nearly as many as we had seen on previous days. On grand voyages (ie. these long ones), HAL leaves presents on your bed on many of the gala nights. One that came in particularly handy was a set of matching grey gloves, scarf,, stocking hat and blanket. You can see Rick below sporting the hat, scarf & gloves in the cold & windy weather.
Our adventurous Captain wanted to take us through the Sound into the Weddell Sea. That would have been pretty cool, but it was not to be. I mentioned earlier that the Antarctic Sound is often crowded with floating ice. As we neared the end toward the Weddell Sea, the Captain & the ice pilot concluded that we might well be able to get through into the Weddell Sea, but that we might not be able to get back again through the gathering ice. So we turned around and headed back north as clouds began to close in and the sun fell toward the sea. So all that is left to show you for this day is some more of Antarctica’s never ending seascapes.