28 March – Party animals

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Saturday 30 March 2019

Written by Gaby

Our final day in Antarctica took us on a delightful trip to the scenic Shetland Islands. Today was a particularly special day for me as it was my 22nd birthday. I was particularly happy to celebrate my 22nd year on Earth surrounded by animals (thankfully the furry and feathery kinds rather than the sweaty inebriated lot commonly found in British nightclubs).

The very aptly named Half Moon Island was our destination and gave us the opportunity to see a range of species up close, including Antarctic fur seals. We were warned upon arrival that when the whim struck them, seals would occasionally give chase to people. I can’t speak for anyone else in the group but from the other mildly alarmed expressions I’d say the general consensus was that no one fancied having a hefty fur seal running at them. Not to worry though, these guys appear to be more bark than bite (which incidentally I’ve heard is quite nasty) and more interested in wrestling with each other than with us.

 

Antarctic fur seals

 

Thankfully the seals remained a safe distance away for the duration of our visit and only ran and bit each other which made for some interesting watching. Our great guide Laura skilfully weaved our group through the various seal clusters to a vantage point near an unoccupied Argentinian summer base where glorious views of the bay awaited us.

 

Half Moon Bay

 

It was on the walk to this point that my birthday wish was answered. Cue huge columnar blow in the distance, followed by a peak in the binos to confirm and yep, I was able to cross off another species I’d wanted to see. Fin whales!

 

Fin whale

 

Walking around the corner- BAM! Birthday wish fulfilment round 2! There tucked amongst the adorably helmeted chinstrap penguins sat a very windswept looking macaroni penguin, yellow head feathers blowing in the wind.

 

Chinstrap penguin

 

Macaroni penguin

 

Back on the boat and the crew surprised me with balloons and the most incredible birthday cake (chocolate and dulce de leche heaven flavoured in case anyone wondered), which I was told had been whipped up that morning and hand decorated by the incredibly talented baker. A chorus of happy birthday and several slices of amazing cake later and the ship began to head for home.

 

Birthday cake

 

I feel truly privileged to have celebrated a birthday in Antarctica surrounded by the most amazing creatures (furry or otherwise). Now we begin our journey back across the infamous Drake Passage and the 6 metre swells that await us.

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