Rolly Polly Iceberg-Olly

Thursday 26 January 2023

Day 6 – 22nd Jan, Orne Harbor and Chinstrap penguins

Today’s adventure began in Orne Harbor, a spectacular bay nestled within towering ice-covered mountains. After a quick breakfast, we were confronted with a 105m climb to our next observation site: a cliffside chinstrap penguin colony. Donning survey gear and two hiking poles each, we powered up the steep hillside. At the top was a breathtaking view of the harbor and the trumpeting of penguins.

Orne harbor from the top of the penguin colony (by Erin)

The landing site and the hike up the snow covered hill (both by Erin)

What felt like a million-dollar view was just the usual for the little chatterboxes waddling about the rocks. Unlike the feisty Adelie’s, the chinstraps seemed a bit more relaxed (as one would have to be, living beside a steep drop on a jagged cliff). While we all set up and started recording behavioural observations the busy penguins went about their day checking on chicks and shouting in relay.

Chinstrap penguins on the top of the colony (by Erin) and a pair tending their chick (by Kelly)

For some of the early birds in the group, we made a quick trek back down the hill to board the zodiacs and return to the mothership. The tranquility of the drive was quickly ended by the sound of a very large but distinct CRACK.


Frantically, we scanned our surroundings to see a large iceberg beside us begin to roll. The top crashed into the water, flipping up the previously smooth under side, tossing the water around it. Zodiac in go-mode, we powered away from the surge heading toward us, quickly sheltering behind the main vessel. Thankfully, the wave wasn’t as dangerous as it could have been, and our driver’s skill safely maneuvered us away long before it would have reached us. With the adrenaline pumping and the thrill of the day kicking into gear, we returned to the ship to continue the day’s schedule.

As surveys came to an end along with the day, we enjoyed a soothing cruise through the Errera channel. Humpback whales socialized in the distance, playfully splashing and breaching in the waves. Enchanting mountains and valleys of ice lined the channel, with the occasional mountain top peaking through the clouds.

The mountains surrounding the channel (by Erin) and a distant humpback whale breach (by Kelly)

For a place so devoid of plant life, the landscape is very much alive. In the silence, the glass-like sea resting still, you can hear the mountains come to life. Glacier ice creaks and groans as it shifts, sending echoes of pops and cracks snap through the air. Peacefully sleeping snow blanketing the mountain cliffs roars to life as it splits off, cascading directly into the sea below and launching waves into motion following its arrival. Wind howls deeply as it weaves through the iceberg dotted channels, as if the mountain peaks were beckoning one another in jest. Amidst all of this is an unimaginable stillness. Complete and uninterrupted silence. It is a completely isolated realm, commanding an authority that’s impossible not to respect. Passengers on deck held their breath, daring not to disturb the quiet.

Icebergs in the channel (by Erin)

Our day of work and perseverance was soon rewarded; to the bow of the ship, gliding to the surface with barely a ripple, a humpback whale rolled through the water as if passing through a portal from the underwater world below. The silence of the harbor was momentarily broken by the whale’s blow, thrusting a mist of seawater into the air. Perhaps this is the standard greeting, and possibly the most enchanting way to say,

 “Welcome to the continent of Antarctica, we’re glad to see you here”

 Flat calm waters in the channel (by Erin) and humpback whale fluking (by Kelly)

Written by Erin (right)


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