Paulet Island / Brown Bluff - Wednesday, January 5, 2005
Long: 63°34,97 S
Lat: 55° 45,78 W
Temp: 3 C°
Water Temp: 0 C°
Wind: 20 Knts
Wind Direction: NE-E
Photo ci contre : Adelie Penguins (by Colin Baird)
Another blustery Zodiac ride brought us alongside of Weddell seals basking on floes and the shoreline of Paulet Island. As we approached the island, the immensity of the Adélie population became apparent. Over 200,000 Adélie penguins and 600 imperial cormorants (blue-eyed shags) nest here. This volcanic cone of an island that lies at the southern end of the Antarctic Sound was discovered by Sir James Clark Ross' 1839-43 expedition and named by him for a fellow Royal Navy Captain. A short walk up the beach took us to the remains of a hut built by the shipwrecked crew of the Antarctic in order to survive the winter of 1903. Although the expedition scientists were Swedish, the crew was largely Norwegian whalers captained by the legendary Carl Anton Larsen. Even after 100 years of devastation from weather and nesting Adélies, one can still see the ingenuity of the sailors' work. On the other side of the cormorant colony towards the landing site, only the sharp-eyed saw a single cross sticking up from the ground. This marks the grave of Ole Kristian Wennersgaard, a seaman and lone casualty from the expedition who died of an intestinal complaint, most likely heart disease. Standing over the small lake in the middle of the island, some of us noticed the track up the side of the hill toward the top of the cone that Larsen's men would climb daily. The beach in front of the hut had a collar of impenetrable brash ice that was home to the seals but an annoyance to penguins going to and from their nests.
The descriptively named Brown Bluff lies at the end of the Tabarin Peninsula that was in turn named for a Paris nightclub favoured by 1940s British explorers. Adélie penguins, gentoo penguins, kelp gulls, and Cape petrels all breed here under an ominous, 745 metre-high cliff. The ship pushed its way through an impressive barrier of brash ice to give the Zodiacs access to the landing beach. Afternoon rains made it a very wet, wet landing. Once ashore, we were able to observe gentoo penguins in numbers for the first time. The gentle gentoo penguin is the largest of the brush-tail penguins and the third tallest penguin after the emperor and king. They average 75 centimetres and weigh five to eight kilograms. They have a distinct orange bill and white patches on their heads reminiscent of earmuffs. They also have noticeably stiff and long tail feathers that can be used for balance on land and as a rudder in the water. Like their fellow brush-tails, the Adélies, experienced gentoos can raise two chicks in a good season. More often then not, the stronger of the two chicks is favoured at feeding time. Small stones can be very important to nesting gentoos who use them like currency and are often seen heading to their nests with one in their mouths. While probably the most neighbourly of all nesting penguins, the gentoo is not above stealing stones from adjacent nests. Curiously, the name may derive from a 17th century Anglicism of genito, Portuguese for heathen, which the British applied to the Hindu faith. Their Latin name papua has a strange origin as well and probably derives from the mislabelling and confusing of species samples form New Guinea. In the Falklands, they are known locally as 'Johnnies'. Other observations included some more brave passengers taking the plunge into the icy waters. With a combined Antarctic experience of over a century between them, the staff members are still puzzled by this unusual behaviour.
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