Thursday, March 06, 2014

South Sheltands Islands - Elephant Island

Elephant Island is a central location in the story of Ernest Shackleton and I felt this was a day for those aboard for whom this was their primary goal.  The locations selected reflected this and there wasn't expected to be much wildlife.

We did pass a few Black-browed Albatosses on the way, this one just taking off:


The scenery was breath-taking:


The first stop was Point Wild, named in honour of Frank Wild, Shackleton's right-hand man and the one responsible for keeping the marooned sailors together while they spent four and a half months living under two overturned boats on the small slip of land to the right of the rock in the foreground here:


This was where they were rescued from and there is now a bust of the Captain of the Chilean ship that recovered the men (all alive but one lost his toes to frostbite).  As you can see around the area, any open land is colonised by penguins, in this case principally Chinstrap Penguins:


There's a lot of icebergs around too, this one put me in mind of the Sydney Opera House:


Here's another:


The landscape of the South Shetland islands is dramatic, stark and beautiful:


















The landing area on Point Wild was very limited so the plan was to wander around in zodiacs and then make brief landings to see the bust.  I declined and stayed aboard, and was treated to seeing a Humpback Whale dive right next to the boat, it was huge so close and a real sight.

From Point Wild we then headed for Cape Valentine, the first place Shackleton and his men made landfall:


It's basically a very thin beach, with active glaciers above it and no known navigation data so the ship had to anchor in the navigable waters and couldn't approach to within more than about 3/4 of a mile.  Given the expanse of water and my previous zodiac experience (see South Georgia day 4) I declined this trip too, I do regret this just a little now given the raft of Cape Petrels a couple of the boats passed but overall I was pleased I was able to make this decision for myself, I was after all on a wildlife trip from my point of view.

From the ship I enjoyed see the Chinstrap Penguins:



As the afternoon wore on the clouds rolled in followed by wind and a deepening swell.  They had to turn the engines on to reduce the roll of this ship, which was by now many metres each way.

We did see a distant Grey-headed Albatross:



And a number of passing Fin Whales:





For those who had gone ashore getting back in the boat was very tricky.  Some experienced wait times of over 45 minutes as it was taking so long to get people from the zodiacs to the ship in the swell.  This was a time to put everything valuable on the floor or hold on to it.

From Cape Valentine we headed down towards the Antarctic peninsula proper, passing ever-larger icebergs on the way:



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