Polar weather and more adventures with penguins and plunge

Sunday 15 January 2023

Day 8 – 09 January 2023

Our day was supposed to start as usual with breakfast at 07:30 am and us ready for the first observation shift soon after. However, it seemed that most of us were glued to our beds as only the lecturers made it to breakfast at the agreed time. A few coffees later we began our first surveys of the day. Once again sighting conditions were quite poor due to fog but a few humpback whales did make an appearance. The highlight of the morning was ship cruising through the narrow Lemaire Channel which was stunning despite the limited views and the clouds that covered the nearly 1,000 m high peaks surrounding us on either sides.

Cruising through the Lemaire Channel (photos by Heather (left) and Sonja (right)

During our next observation stint the marine mammal team spotted the third minke whale of the trip which lifted the mood. As our vessel’s progress to the next landing site was slower than planned our observer rotation got a little off schedule, and Ella, Kat and I took over while the rest of the group headed for lunch. Unfortunately for us, the winds picked up and the temperature dropped. Instead of complaining the three of us began to do some exercises (lunges, star jumps and butt kicks) to warm up while of course remaining on survey effort. Vigorous exercise really helped with warmth but also caused a moment of laughter when we looked up to the ship’s bridge to see the crew on watch watching us with bemused expressions. While on the lookout for mammals an ice floe glid past the ship with three penguins standing on it. These looked somewhat different and were soon identified as Adelie penguins, the first of this species we had seen on our trip. This was another bonus for bracing the cold.

Whilst having lunch after our watch we spotted humpback whales surfacing near the ship from the restaurant windows. Then an ice floe drifted past with a seal-shaped object upon it. At closer look this seal-shaped object morphed into our first leopard seal sighting which caused some extreme excitement among certain members of our team.

Leopard seal on ice and meal with a view (photos by Kat (left) and Sonja (right))

Just after lunch we landed at Port Charcot which was our last landing and last chance for detailed penguin observations of the trip. Soon we charged up the hill in order to maximise our time ashore and get as much data as possible for the penguin behaviour study. We did find time to pose for a group photo in front of an ice-filled bay. “Pose like a penguin” was the instruction for the photo but some seemed to interpret that as “sound like a penguin” and showed off their trumpeting behaviour.

St Andrews team posing as penguins at Port Charcot

Four groups of students watched the Gentoo penguins on their nests. Just like at the other colonies we visited the penguins were very much behind their breeding schedule. Although they went through the motions of sitting on their stony nests squabbling with other penguins passing too close or stealing pebbles from each other, none of the penguins we observed were actually incubating eggs and there were no chicks. The wet and windy weather in December with intense snow fall really seems to have messed up penguin breeding business this year.

Watching penguins – sadly none of them had eggs or chicks but they did all go through the ‘pretend’ motions’ of breeding behaviour (photo by Sonja)

Once back on the beach and many penguin photos later (including some rather grumpy chinstrap penguins mixed in with the gentoos) most of the students had another go at the polar plunge -for most it was a repeat experience but some finally managed to check it off from their bucket list as they hadn’t done it the time before. I had decided that once was enough for jumping into the Southern Ocean so I sat this one out. My plunging peers reported that the water temperature felt significantly colder than during the first plunge which only confirmed my wise decision not to attempt it again. After the polar plunge most of the students ran up to the 10th floor and once again used one of the amazing ship facilities: the jacuzzi. After dinner we were sent a bottle of red wine by the restaurant manager which made us all agree that it was a great end to a great day.

Polar plungers take two (photo by Sonja)

Written by Heather

Heather leading the charge during the first polar plunge (photo by Sonja)

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