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A&K Antarctica - Day 7 - Enterprise Island
Saturday, November 30, 2013   Related topics:
Dec 15, 2012 - The adventure continues. This morning we are greeted by deep blue skies with wisps of white clouds and clear, calm waters as we board our Zodiac for a short exploration of Enterprise Island. The island was well known to whalers in the early 1900s.

Enterprise Island

On the Zodiac and ready to shoot some photos

As our Zodiac backs away from Le Boreal, we are treated to a unique photo op. Another Zodiac about 50 yards away has two uninvited passengers. Two Gentoo penguins hopped aboard, perhaps trying to escape the jaws of a Leopard seal. They were more than willing to let us float by and snap photos of them as they pranced around the edge of the Zodiac. You just never know what is going to happen in Antarctica.

Gentoo penguins hop a ride on a Zodiac

This morning is a photographer's dream. The lighting is near-perfect. Incredible icebergs with deep blue crevasses, covered in snow, set against a blue sky. It does not get much better than this. I lucked out and got a seat in the very front of the Zodiac, the best seat in the house for photo taking. There is no "landing" this morning, just floating around and exploring.

Huge ice chunks carved by wind and water dot the bay

An old, rusted-out whaling vessel that ran aground makes an interesting backdrop and a fitting metaphor for the whaling industry. Millions of whales were slaughtered for their blubber which was turned into whale oil in the 1800s and early 1900s. Even some early-model Ford vehicles recommended whale oil as a lubricant in some parts of the vehicle. Some species were almost hunted to extinction. I guess you could argue that the petroleum industry, in spite of its faults, did save the whales from extinction.

Shipwrecked whaling ship

Back on board Le Boreal, Captain Garcia navigates into waters where a pod of Humpbacks is feeding. We get a great look at them diving, driving krill to the surface, then coming up to feed.

A Humpback dives, showing his fluke

Our afternoon adventure is a landing at Cuverville Island. Cuverville is home to many breeding birds, including the Gentoo penguin. A&K offers an arduous 1 mile hike up a steep mountain. We opted out of the hike fearing that our boots were just not designed for ice and snow hiking to that degree.

Jannie Cloete, the A&K Cruise Director

Brave hikers make their way up the mountain

Our Zodiac dropped us on the stone beach which was made up of some large, slippery rocks that were a little tricky to walk on. The first surprise was the temperature. It was actually quite warm. Guests started to shed their parkas and gloves, laying them on the snow banks in front of the beach. Rickee wasted no time stripping hers off. A curious Gentoo soon walked over to check out her jacket. I feared he would seek to decorate it with penguin poop. Fortunately, he did not.

Gentoo checks out Rickee's jacket

There is a large colony of Gentoo penguins just 50 yards or so from our landing site. There is a trail in the snow, or a walk along the slippery stone beach. We opt for the snow. The narrow trail is being used by humans and Gentoos alike. We always step aside and give the right of way to the residents.

A friendly Gentoo poses for a picture

Rickee walked farther up the hill to get a closer look at the colony. The smell got to me about ¾ of the way there. The smell of penguin guano is not something you will soon forget. A little wind would have been nice today.

We spent about 45 minutes taking photos of the Gentoos when one of the Expedition staff mentioned something about a short Zodiac ride before returning to the ship. It sounded like fun, so we hopped in. We had no idea what we were about to witness. Just 50 yards from the landing, we came upon a Leopard seal on the hunt. He had just captured a Gentoo and was making the kill right in front of us. The Gentoo put up a fight, and even escaped the jaws of the seal and jumped up on a small ice chunk no more than 7 feet from where I was sitting on the Zodiac. He was already badly injured. Before I could get my video camera focused on the penguin, the Leopard seal came out of the water, snatched the penguin and dragged him back into the water. It was the most brutal, bloody and savage attack I have ever witnessed. The seal would violently slap the penguin on the surface of the water, repeatedly. I caught most of it on video. I will post a link to YouTube later for those interested. It is the most compelling nature video I have ever shot.

Leopard seal with Gentoo penguin

After returning to Le Boreal, we got comfortable and spent most of the evening in the ship's Observation Lounge on Deck 6 enjoying the scenery. Tomorrow, we will visit Palmer Station, a US scientific outpost.
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