Log - Day #4...
|A leopard seal preparing his 'dinner'.
February 6, 2006
Devil's Island and Brown Bluff on the Antarctic Peninsula
There is no way to understand how truly amazing it is to start your day walking outside and seeing islands of icebergs. Some
icebergs were small; some were large; some were more like flat ice sheets; others were jagged; and then there were my favorite –
the ones with seals perched on them.
It is only 6:45am but if this is what is in store every morning, I will have no problem forgoing a bit of sleep to catch this scenery…
Who knew that there would ever come a day when I would say that I went hiking in Antarctica? Well, the day has come. It wasn’t
a long hike but it was a steep hike. This outing took place on Devil’s Island.
Before going on the hike we had a chance to hang out with a different breed of penguin than the type we saw yesterday – the
Adelie penguin. The special thing about coming at this time of year is the presence of penguin chicks. They are just about done
molting their feathers off and soon they will be off on their own in the big, cold sea needing to fend for themselves. They didn’t
seem too nervous about this yet as they were too busy chasing their moms around trying to get the regurgitated krill out of their
mouths. To do this, the baby lodges its head all they way into its mom’s mouth. It is quite amusing to watch. Gotta love penguin
Our big outing today was our stop at the Antarctic Peninsula. This would be our one and only stop during the course of our trip
that was going to be on the mainland. At first it wasn’t looking so good for us that we could even make this stop. The winds were
blowing out of control. It might have been my imagination but it felt like the wind was pushing our boat over to one side.
Everybody was walking at a slanted angle. It really seemed like we were not going to get our chance to step on the mainland.
But something in the air happened and the winds died down. The crew was getting our zodiacs ready to go…
Our group (as our boat has been divided up into two groups) first headed out on an ‘ice cruise’. Call it an Antarctic safari, if you
will. We were seeing the Antarctic wildlife in its fullest.
A leopard seal kept poking its head up above the water but it appeared that he had something in his mouth. I remember thinking
‘What is that?’ He was jerking his head back and forth while his teeth kept a tight hold. It was like watching a dog playing with a
stuffed animal chew-toy. The sad thing was that this wasn’t too far off from what the seal was doing – the main difference was
that this animal was real. The victim was a penguin. It was getting thrown around – literally. We saw it flailing from time to time
in mid-air. The seal would then again retrieve it and the whole scene would replay itself. There were birds that would swoop
down and pick up some of the penguin feathers that were floating on the surface of the sea. Other members of the penguin family
watched on to see one of their own being tossed around by this seal. This was when we would realize that penguins are definitely
not the sharpest tools in the shed. Many of the penguins looking on were sitting within inches of sleeping leopard seals. Maybe
they were risk-takers but the general consensus was that they are just stupid little guys. Make that adorable stupid little guys.
As sad as this was, it was also quite beautiful as all of this was taking place in a sea of icebergs that were forming a pale aqua color
in the water. The beauty of it all seriously made me beam. I leaned over to Alicia and we both agreed that no words can describe
just how fascinating everything was. I never thought I would be smiling while watching a penguin being tossed around to its
death. But, sadly, I was.
Minutes later marked my first time seeing an actual kill right before my eyes. I’ve been to Africa twice and have never seen an
actual kill. Who knew I would find this in Antarctica? We saw it coming and we just sat there and watched. The leopard seal glided
across the water (similar to how you would imagine a shark skimming the water) and was heading straight towards an iceberg
with many little Adelie penguins. Once again, they were confirming their not-so-bright reputation that we had formed earlier by
choosing an iceberg to hang out on where they were doing the equivalent of walking up a treadmill that was five feet long at a 45-
degree incline. Basically, they weren’t getting anywhere except downhill as they would all eventually slide down on their butts
after making their ten-second efforts up the hill. And while this was happening, the leopard seal was making its way over. He had
his target. We watched as the seal took the slowest penguin by its mouth. And that was that. The penguin was the seal’s new
After all of the excitement, our zodiac’s next destination was the mainland. We had arrived!
The main occupants of this area were Adelie and Gentoo penguins. Adelies are very cute and Gentoos are the ones who tend to be
quite inquisitive about humans. This curiosity leads to them having no problem making their way up to a human and having a
physical interaction. There is a girl Naama that I have met on the boat and we both would love to sneak home a penguin. We’ve
been talking about this for a couple days now. I think I found the one that I want. He was a Gentoo that had a fascination with the
string on my jacket. In between tugging on it, he also had a good time pecking at my knee and my feet. I named him Chilly Willy. I
even sang the Chilly Willy the Penguin song to him. Alicia pointed out that she never realized Chilly Willy was a penguin when she
watched the cartoon. The only excuse I can think of is that she is blonde (man, is she going to hurt me when she reads this!).
Our time was up. How does the time fly by so quickly? My feet were ready to go back (as they were close to being frostbitten) but
I wasn’t. Oh well. Gotta do what you gotta do. On my walk back to the zodiac I saw an interesting site. I will refer to it as intact
Gentoo penguin remains. The whole skeleton was there with the little orange feet still connected. The little white wings sat right
next to this. It would have been disgusting if it wasn’t in such perfect condition.
As I mentioned, my feet were frozen. My toes were on the brink of amputation. When I got back to the boat I only had one thing
on my mind. The sauna. I met up with a few other people who were already in there. About twenty minutes into it, the sweat
started to kick in. Or maybe I should say kick ‘out’. It’s hard to remember the last time I sweated. Damn, this felt good.
|On the Antarctic Peninsula.