We were warned often and well in advance that what we may or may not be able to do today was very, very dependent on weather conditions and swell – and so to be prepared for worst.
Elephant Island (part of the South Shetland Islands) basically sticks out into the Drake Passage and has no shelter, therefore it is often only possible to do a short zodiac cruise at Cape Lookout (our first excursion) and not leave the Vavilov at all at Point Wild (our second stop).
Elephant Island is a very cool and craggy place – when you can see it. Many of the One Ocean crew had only seen it as a thin strip of brown hidden below massive amounts of cloud, apparently today was a very good day!
We loaded into the zodiacs and started the excursion by following some Humpback whales south for a bit. The whales led us past where the zodiac cruise usually goes, which is when the One Ocean crew became super-excited. They had never been to this more exposed side of the Cape Lookout before and kept remarking that they had never seen it so calm. So, Expedition Leader, Nate, decided we would take the opportunity to explore this uncharted territory.
And it was really amazing! For a start, the geological structures were incredible.
We brought our tally of penguin species to 4 for the trip (out of a potential 7) by finding a good-sized Macaroni Penguin colony.
The reason they are called Macaronis is because of the yellow embellishment on their brow. Apparently, a fancy headdress back in the olden days in Italy was called a “macaroni”. Having just learned this, that children’s rhyme:
Yankee Doodle went to town,
riding on a pony,
put a feather in his hat
and called it Macaroni
makes a lot more sense!
We also found another Chinstrap penguin colony, and could even land on the beach near the colony. Apparently, they have never landed on Elephant Island before – so this was an absolute first!
On this landing, we were also able to get up close and personal with a moulting Elephant Seal
In fact, there were plenty of Elephant seals and a few Fur seals lounging around on the beaches in this area.
Also got a first look at a krill – the food on which the majority of the Antarctic species feed.
And an Antarctic Cormorant.
After first exploring the “unknown” area, we then did a shortened version of the regular zodiac cruise. I’m sooooo glad we got to see the other side, as the regular side was nowhere near as interesting! The Macaroni penguins on this side were a lot further away and the geology nowhere near as cool. We really, really lucked out!
Returned to the Vavilov frozen, but full of excitement – especially because the One Ocean crew were so incredibly excited about what they’d seen and the amazing opportunity to explore a place that very few (if any) people had been before. They were really buzzing, and that made us even more excited than we already were 🙂