Saturday 21 January 2023
We are a long way out to sea when we wake this morning – trying to avoid quite extensive ice as we travel south. The captain is replotting the route to get us to clear waters at Terra Nova Bay. We are likely to be spending the day at sea. The wind has changed to the south east overnight, there is heavy snow and the temperature is -3C.
After breakfast, Samuel tells us about Emperor Penguins with photos from when he overwintered at the French Dumont D’Urville to study them. Emperor Penguins are the largest penguins – around 1.2m tall and 25 to 40kg in weight. They can live 45+ years. Unlike other penguins, they cannot hop around the rocks and carry out their breeding cycle on ice – and exist only at Antarctica. They must choose breeding grounds where the ice will stay for long enough for the chicks to become mature enough to leave on their own. There are about 60 known colonies around Antarctica with the largest being Coulman Island where we were yesterday – 25,000 pairs; of course it is now summer so the colony has gone and the penguins we saw yesterday were just completing their moult. These penguins are the most dependent on sea ice and will be greatly affected by global warming.
Samuel tells us about their feather structure and about how they capture vast amounts of air beneath them; they can release bubbles of air in a controlled manner as they come back to the surface after a dive and use it to propel themselves up onto ice floes. They are also the only penguins that don’t have a fixed nest site: they carry their eggs and chicks on their feet. It is fascinating to see how they huddle together to keep warm: the centre of a huddle can be up to 37.5C even when it is -30C ambient temperature. Because more and more ice forms over the winter, the penguins have further and further to travel to get to open water for feeding. Samuel calculated that an average male penguin will fast (while incubating the egg/chick) for 100 days/season or about 8 years of its life. An average colony is about 100km from the sea and they make 5 trips per season = 1000km per season or 30,000km in their life time.
After the lecture we have time for a cuppa and a chat before heading down for the 3rd instalment of the documentary series. In this episode Scott and Amundsen are basically in the area we are now or will be in the next day or so – the environment is very real to us now.
After the lunchtime eating event I retire to the cabin to read for a while. Outside is an endless sea of pack ice stretching out as far as the eye can see in every direction. Our ship manages to plough relatively easily through it all but every now and then there is a big bump as we collide with an ice floe. At other times there is a slushy sound as we push our way through.
Then Richard continues his story of the Shackleton Party rescue from the Ross Sea. Genevieve and I decide to go upstairs to check out the spa pool, sauna and steam room. While we are in the spa pool there is an announcement of an emperor penguin ahead – so we rush out to see it in our bathing suits and towels, much to the amusement of the others. It is just what we need to cool down and it takes quite a while before we need to head back inside.
The daily briefing encompasses yesterday too and covers the walk out on the fast ice to see the emperor penguins last night, the rare Ross Sea seal that we had seen, different sorts of sea ice and of course our progress through the ice over the last couple of days. Samuel also shows us satellite image of the ice at Coulman Island and a closer image where you can see a brown patch where the penguins are found. During the day today the wind and snow have gone away and we have been passing through pack ice that is covering 90% of the sea in brilliant sunshine. We have seen emperor penguins, Adelie penguins, and seals along the way together with all sorts of ice formations where the ice has pushed together.
Tonight we will continue through the pack ice and hopefully reach clear waters in Terra Nova bay tomorrow so we can have some more adventures (although Aaron does mention that one of the islands in the bay is the 2nd windiest place on earth so I’m not sure what we will be in for). Apparently there is still (unusually for this time of year) a lot of ice in and around Ross Island/McMurdo Sound and there is a large storm system forecast for the northern part of the Ross Sea so time and the storm may work in our favour to clear out that area for when we reach there in a few days time.
Over dinner the whole ship is entertained by 2 Adelie penguins who are following the ship. They run and slide across an ice floe then dive in the water and jump up onto the next floe. They follow us for half an hour or so with great cheers going up each time they jump onto the next floe – we name them Scott and Amundsen. We have been so privileged with our mealtime entertainment: penguins, birds and seals of different varieties, so many different forms of ice and snow, gigantic waves and calm seas.
It is weird to head off to bed with the sun still high in the sky. We watch some of the documentaries on the screen in our room before retiring.
Day 1-2: Meeting and Departure
Day 3: The Snares
Day 4: Auckland Islands – Enderby Island
Day 5: At Sea
Day 6: Macquarie Island
Day 7: Macquarie Island
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: At Sea
Day 10: At Sea
Day 11: At Sea
Day 12: Cape Adare, Antarctica
Day 13: Possession Islands
Day 14: At Sea, Coulman Island
Day 15: At Sea
Day 16: At Sea
Day 17: At Sea, Ross Ice Shelf
Day 18: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 19: Cape Bird/McMurdo Sound
Day 20: Cape Evans/Cape Royds
Day 21: At Sea
Day 22: At Sea
Day 23: At Sea
Day 24: At Sea
Day 25: At Sea
Day 26: At Sea/Campbell Island
Day 27: Final Day at Sea