Crime in Paradise: Gentoo gangsters run this colony!
Day 7 – 23rd Jan, Dozing leopards, gentoo gangsters and a letter home.
We are a full week into the expedition, about as far from our distant homes as we are close to returning. Now, with a never-ending routine running through our bones, we woke to the calling of an early breakfast, put on our science clothes and headed out for another exciting day on deck!
There we stood our icy still positions, in a regular attempt to disguise ourselves as bright red ornaments lining the bow of MS Fridtjord Nansen. This time, I was starting the day off on the lookout for some marine mammals. Early in the day, excitement began to drift with the mist. We were just passing through the calm waters of paradise bay, when echoes broke the silence. “THERE”. Adrenaline rising, every head turned at once! “SEAL”. It was 10 seconds, maybe less, before the shouts continued. “100m, 350 degrees”. ID? “ID: LEOPARD!”
I was not the one to spot it but followed the eager directions of those that had quickly. And sure enough! There it was; a small bit of ice, with a big bit of seal on it, floating what felt like just an arm’s reach away (+7m in elevation). Seeing a leopard seal so close, and for all of us save Sonja, for the first time quickly became a highlight of the day.
The excitement of the morning was followed by an afternoon zodiac ride to Damoy Point. How do I describe this? Perhaps with crystal clear waters? Or snow topped mountains that hang onto the underside of the drifting mist? Perhaps with miles of untouched, snow-covered hills rolling, reaching, to a faint blue horizon? Or perhaps it is an image that cannot be written.
Damoy Point penguin colony (both by Seb)
Either way, here lived the gangsters, the gentoo penguins. Pretty chilled out from first glance, but the more we watched the more we realised the luxury of relaxation was not for everyone. All of our team were doing focal behaviour observation sessions to collect data on the nesting penguin pairs. As a late snowfall had destroyed this colony’s first attempt at breeding, some pairs had attempted a second while others had time on their flippers. Our little mama lived a life of crime, running around the colony with plenty of fearless pebble steals.
I was writing data as Nadia’s voice echoed from the background. “Stood up, looking around. Oh, Oh? There it goes; eyes on a penguin…” And like David Attenborough narrating an episode of law and order she went on. “Yes, yes, she’s about to get him. PSP! – Pebble Steal Perpetrator”! Before I could catch the rapid action, she continued mid-breath. “and another PSP!” and another, and another! 34 pebbles. Then each pebble aggressively hurled at her own nest, a more violent version of the calmer ‘pebble presentation’ that happens between a successful nesting pair. She then settled down at last, with a quick pebble re-arrangement, a look around and finally, a CM – ‘Comfort Move’ to conclude the action.
Such a thrilling day could only be finished off with a couple of cocktails while we were docked in Port Lockroy. This is a whaling bay turned military base turned British post-office and a truly magical place. You may have heard of it, every year 4 applicants get selected to carry out the mission of posting 80,000 envelopes all over the world from all the visitors to Antarctica. Seeing this opportunity, we all grabbed a pen and post cards and got to work. Sending loving memories home, to someone, somewhere very far away.
Postcards from Port Lockroy and enjoying the refreshments and view from the explorer lounge (both by Seb)
written by Sebastian (left)