The winner of best brownie in Antarctica goes to Palmer Station, a US scientific research centre and our first stop for the day. They were nice enough to give us a talk about the work they do, before we went ashore and were given a tour of the station. Here are some of the most interesting things we learnt from our visit (make you own judgements – I’ve made mine).
- The station has an outside hot tub with an amazing view.
- They ship most of their food from the US (including meat).
- The largest land animal on Antarctica is actually a flightless midge, only 2mm long.
- The US have the biggest research base on Antarctica – the McMurdo station. Due to where the station is located, anyone wanting to go to the South Pole has to pass through (and so register) at McMurdo.
- They make a mean brownie.
There are currently over 60 research stations on Antarctica, representing 30 countries. The politics of Antarctica is very interesting and not something I’ll go into here but it is comforting to know that to date, 42 countries have signed the Antarctic treaty which (in summary taken from wikipedia) prohibits military activities and mineral mining, prohibits nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal, supports scientific research and protects the continent’s ecozone. Here’s hoping it stays that way for a long time to come.
After an interesting morning, we were taken on a short visit to nearby Torgersen Island. It was just a short visit where we were lucky enough to see another colony of Adelie penguins.
The stars of our visit were the Antarctic Fur Seals. They were everywhere on the island. We’d been warned to take care around the fur seals as they can be quite aggressive, especially the young males. Slightly scary but we kept our distance. It was great to watch them play together, making loud barking noises and showing their bravado but not appearing to hurt each other. See the seals at play video here.
After lunch, the ship continued its journey through the narrow Neumayer channel, which I’m sure would have been stunning but due to the low visibility, we decided to admire the views from inside where it was warm. During the afternoon, the conditions continued to take a turn for the worse with low cloud, high winds and heavier snow.
The afternoon landing on Danco Island looked like it might be scrapped, but last minute it was decided that conditions should hold well enough for a short trip there and back. The guides were keen to take us, as it had been reported that Chinstrap penguins could be found on Danco. Another penguin to add to our list and the last of the three species of penguin you can see on the Antarctic Peninsula.
The zodiac ride over and back from Danco Island were the harshest we had experienced yet and reminded us how lucky we had been with the weather so far. Due to the weather conditions we had to stay along the beach but it was fun to watch the Gentoos navigate the deep, fresh snow on their stomachs, almost swimming along.
We were also lucky enough to see a solitary Chinstrap penguin hanging out with his Gentoo cousins. We weren’t sure why he’d ventured here alone? I guess, like us, he enjoys travel and adventure.
Our trip to Antarctica was with Antarpply Expeditions on the MV Ushuaia in March 2014. Review to come (but in short they were fantastic). Contact us if you have any questions.