March 11th – Mikkelsen Harbour/ D ‘Hainaut Island, spert Island, Cierva cove

With a morning PA announcement, you wake to the calming voice of ‘Laurie’ our expedition leader who gives you a full rundown on the schedule, weather & conditions before making your way to breakfast. (If you were not up already that is)!

Early start and it was time to hit the zodiacs for our first full day out exploring the ‘Palmer Archipelago’. We had 3 excursions planed for today because operations and conditions were yet again great!  When heading down to the mud room to board our zodiacs we are called up by group. We had 4 groups (penguins, seals, whales and Albatross).These groups are continually rotating for the first boats to go out and this prevents congestion while gearing up, Good Job Quark!

Excursion 1: Not even 50 metres out on the zodiac and we came across a small piece of iceberg with a very curious Leopard seal guarding it. Territorial behaviour from a Leopard seal is a natural behaviour along with curiosity. Wonderful swimmers in the water, he passed under us and around us, always popping his head out for a peak! A beautiful creature to watch, but you certainly do not want any limbs hanging over the zodiac or he might just see an opportunity for lunch!

It was a calm, cloudy mystical day today. Often thinking, where on earth am I… this can’t actually be happening? We cruised the ice walls and surrounding mountains and really took in how grand this place really was! We could see the layers of algae forming in glaciers by the waters edge, pretty pink and green layers would form.  We could also see in the water something that looked like some kind of jelly fish…. When in fact they are called ‘salp’. These can form enormous swarms and are becoming more abundant than krill in certain regions of the Southern Ocean.

Back to land we put foot on D’hainaut Island where there was a permanent emergency rescue building, a colony of Gentoo penguins and a gravesite to the ‘mighty’ bones of some whales who fell to hunters back in the ‘whaling’ days.  The sheer size of a whale bone really puts into prospective just how huge they really are. Once you have been ‘touched’ by a penguin…All you want to do is see another…… every encounter becomes better than the last! And if you are not careful you will find that all you are taking photos of are funny little penguins.  Feeding their chicks, building their nests, chasing each other or just playing in the shores of the waters edge. You do need to keep reminding yourself that you are actually in Antarctica and stop and enjoy the wider magnificent views as well.

Excursion 2:  Another rare treat, the captain took us to ‘spert island’. Often the waters are too rough to visit, and many expeditions do not make it here throughout the season. With calm waters on our side we circumnavigated this unique place. Huge Rock Mountains towering up out of the ocean, this was a good Hub for Beautiful odd shaped/patterned Glaciers to gather.  Again, the sheer size of these ‘beauties’ hard to capture! With 90% of the glacier being under the water…. this gives you a little perspective!  We saw some Weddell Seals snoozing on some rocks and to finish this excursion off we got to raft through a natural Arch and cave in the rock mountain. Water turbulence was high as the different direction of waves came smashing together against each other onto the walls. Our driver ‘Jess’ made it look like a piece of cake to navigate through safely!

And the treats keep on coming!  With everyone back on the ship it was time to head to Cierva cove. And guess what…On the journey there were whales everywhere…We watched them from the top platform of the ship while they were Bubble and lunge feeding. Bubble netting is an advanced and necessary feeding method developed by humpback whales to feed multiple mouths at one time. This was extraordinary to watch!

Excursion 3: Arriving into Cierva cove, I really started to feel like I was in Antarctica. As we made our way out for a 16:30 sunset (no sun at all) cruise, it was the coldest I had felt the air and there was ice gathering around everywhere. We spent our zodiac ride getting up close to small icebergs and drifting between all the other pieces of ice forming floating around us. While we did not watch the sun go down over the horizon, we did spend another hour watching ‘whales be whales’ in this great pristine wilderness…by this time our hands were frozen and it was time to head back to the ship. Dusk had arrived, the ship lights shining, and it looked spectacular with the glacier backdrop!