On to Elephant Island

*Days 13 – 15* our two and a half days at sea were not as bad as anticipated, the seas were very rough when we first left South Georgia but were much calmer as we headed closer to the South Shetland Islands.

The hours of staring out to sea paid off with me seeing a Sperm whale and an unspecified beaked whale (I didn’t manage to get a photo for identification). During the roughest part of the journey I looked out of my cabin window to see 5 Orcas just outside, they surfaced a few times before disappearing, the marine biologist, Colin Baird, is yet to forgive me for not telling him, although they would have been well gone by the time I found him. I am under pressure now to spot more Orcas and known on-board as the “whale whisperer”.

We also encountered 10 or so fin whales, the second largest species in the world, feeding in the very deep waters north of the peninsula. During the sea days we had talks on a wide range of subjects from the classic explorers to some of the lesser known such as Nordenskold whose journey was almost as epic as Shackleton’s.

Early on day 15 Elephant island loomed out of the fog, a truly godforsaken place to have to await rescue, we were here on a spring morning with thick snow but watery sunshine, they endured unbelievable hardship on this small spit of land enclosed by glaciers and cliffs, a sobering start to our day.

As we have reached the Antarctic Peninsula we went through our bio security checks again, cleaning all our equipment, hovering bags and all velcro fastenings to remove any seeds from other regions so we are ready for our upcoming excursions.

Our expedition leader Alex is the youngest member of staff (and probably on-board) yet he has very a wise head on his shoulders and six years of experience. He decided we should explore Gibbs Island by zodiac, not normally on the “tourist” map but we were not disappointed. The sun shone brightly, the seas were calm and we were rewarded with fantastic views into the snow covered mountains that were home to chinstrap penguins. We watched them swim in from the deep and leap onto the rocks of the beach before starting their arduous journey up to their nesting sites. The frequently trod routes were deep grooves in the snowfield creating what looked like moguls. We watched eagerly encouraging them to make their leaps, many of which ended with the poor penguins sliding back down the slope to begin again or an awkward beak first landing. One penguin disappeared completely only to be cheered on when he reappeared from the deep snow, shaking himself off rather indignantly. I could have stayed there for hours but lunch beckoned so we returned to the ship and are now heading to Deception Island for tomorrows landings.