Wednesday, June 20, 2012

South America and Antarctica 18 - Paulet Island

Paulet Island, our next shore excursion, is home to 100,000 pairs of breeding Adelie penguins. But, first we had to get there.

We assembled one level above the loading deck. Jannie Cloete, our cruise director, seen above in the yellow jacket, ushered us down the stairs in groups of ten for the Zodiac boats.

After stepping through a disinfectant bath, able bodied or not, we were all helped into the Zodiac boats.

And, off we went, ferried by a more than competent Zodiac driver.

In this case, our Zodiac driver was naturalist Jennifer Clement, who has spent more than ten seasons in Antarctica. She said that being invited to join this crew was like being paid to play.

Upon our arrival at our destination, we were always met by two men in dry suits, who steadied the Zodiacs while we disembarked. At first I found all the safety procedures cumbersome. But after a while, I came to appreciate the emphasis on safety. Being three days sail away from medical facilities, the crew did everything they could to avoid injuries.

Even with the safety procedures, there were still a few unfortunate accidents that resulted in falls and sprains--all of which, to my knowledge, happened aboard the ship.

It's one thing to imagine over 200,000 penguins living and breeding on a small, one mile in diameter island. It's anther thing entirely to be there with them. The first thing one experiences as one approaches is the pungent smell of wall to wall penguin guano. The snow was pink with it and many of the feathered inhabitants were covered in it.

The remains of this hut, a remnant of Dr. Otto Nordenskjold's 1901-1904 Swedish Antarctic Expedition, have been appropriated by the island's inhabitants.

Nordenskjold and his party spent a long, cold Antarctic winter here, enduring incomprehensible hardships. The ship that was supposed to pick them up at summer's end became stuck in the ice and was crushed. They were rescued the following summer by the Argentine navy.

Sitting on top of one the walls of Nordenskjold's old hut, I spied this mother penguin checking out her newly hatched chick. If you look closely you can see it peeking out from her belly.

Here she offers it some tender motherly love...

...while another mother sits on her nest next door.

I wasn't the only one to see her, of course. Other visitors from our ship were intent on capturing the moment as well. I was gratified to see that, for the most part, everyone respected the request that we stay from 15 to 20 feet away from nesting birds.

Oh, and those black and white specs in the photo above, they are all nesting penguins.

It was fun to see all the different personalities exhibited by these little birds.

As in all species, body language always tells an interesting tale.
This video, taken from the ship, gives you an overview of Paulet Island. The black and white specks you see on nearly all the hills are nesting penguins.

Continue on to Post 19: More Paulet Island, by clicking here.


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