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Journal Entry:

Thursday, April 02, 2015 23:19:08

ANTARCTICA & IBERIA 2015: 4 South South Orkney Islands to South Sandwich Islands

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The past couple of days at sea were much the same as before, but with rougher ocean. The movement of the ship caused some reduction in dining room attendance, however most on board are very experienced travellers who know their own limitations and what preventative works best for them, so most were up and around. Our afternoon walk around the deck became a bit more challenging, with quite a few sideways steps. The temperature hovered close to 0C, with small movements each way

The day before arriving in the South Sandwich Islands the sea calmed to only large rollers, but the walk around deck required caution due to the presence of slippery ice. We passed a lot of ice bergs, some the size of islands, Also, someone was saying they counted 42 humpback whales in about an hour They gave us a good display of their tails (flukes) being pointed skyward as they dove

One thing I learned was that on the island of Thule in the South Sandwich Islands, which is British Territory, was an Argentine base which one time was estimated to house up to 100 military personnel, which remained in use despite British diplomatic protests. When a British ship arrived 2 days after the Falklands war ended only about 10 people were left. They promptly surrendered and the British blew up and destroyed the entire base

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This morning we woke up with the ship moving very slowly to find anchorage off the old Argentine base in the now unpopulated South Sandwich Islands There was an early breakfast, followed by a briefing before an early departure by zodiac for the neck of land between to mountains. Before we landed we could see tens of thousands of mostly chinstrap penguins covering the hills, and the ocean was alive with fur seals frolicking about, leaping onto and off the many rocks. On the beach were a number of elephant seals jumbled together, and even a couple of blond coloured fur seals

The beach, hills and even the slopes of the nearest mountain were alive with seals and penguins. It was impossible to walk down the beach due to the huge population of seals - some of the fur seals were quite aggressive and it is dangerous to get between seals and the water, thus cutting off their escape. We climbed a very steep hill to the rolling flatter area that the base had been built on, where groups from the ship had cautiously picked their way though the masses of wildlife. Some of the more aggressive fur seals regularly charged in our direction, but we were taught to not retreat, but rather put our arms up high and wave them, looking as large as we could Fortunately, they inevitably backed down, but not until they showed us a pretty impressive set to teeth

There was a group of Gentoo penguins, but their numbers were dwarfed by the thousands upon thousands of chinstraps. As far as the eye could see were masses of penguins, with spaces in their midst where fur seals were play fighting with each other or just laying around. The seals were very active, but seemed to be leaving the penguins alone. The stink of penguin poop and noise had to be experienced to be believed. Laying on the ground were a few dead penguins, which the skuas tried to approach to eat, but the birds were attacked by both penguins and seals, which made a quite meal quite impossible

All that was left of the Argentine base was tangled wreckage of metal structures. Hoses and wiring had been appropriated by penguins for their nests. The high flagpole, with no flag was the only thing left intact. We spent about an hour and a half wandering around this amazing place before returning to the ship, where we were greeted by a southern right whale and several humpback whales nearby. It was the Antarctic wildlife experience of a lifetime. As we stepped on board we were presented with a hot chocolate with a healthy shot of rum in it, definitely a good idea for thawing out

We will now be at sea for about four days, headed for Bouvet Island, part of the Norwegian Antarctic