Tuesday, March 24, 2009



A 6:30 a.m. wake up call in calm, foggy seas, was followed by breakfast at 7 am, and our very first landing at 8 a.m. on King George Island in the South Shetland Island group. We were pretty excited, as this was a new island for Don and I, as well as the expedition staff. We landed on the Fildes Peninsula, near the Russian Research Station, Bellingshausen. We hiked over to the other side of the peninsula and some hiked even longer. Verdant valleys lit up by the cushion mosses spp. and crustose lichens Xanthoria, spp. made this the "greenest" landing that I have ever seen in the Antarctic region. On the landing beach, we were greeted by this year's fully grown GENTOO PENGUINS (300). BROWN SKUAS (30- some with leg bands: VCO, VH5) were patrolling the beaches and the research stations, while a few IMPERIAL SHAGS (4) landed on the inshore waters. The real thrill was finding 6 or 7 WEDDELLS' SEALS on the beaches. One had sustained an injury, possibly from a Leopard Seal, especially judging by the number of inside out penguin carcasses on the beach. We also saw a few SOUTHERN ELEPHANT SEALS (11), and ANTARCTIC FUR SEALS (28). Quite a few SOUTHERN GIANT PETRELS (12) were about, and Don saw two WILSON'S STORM-PETRELS which popped off the scree slopes. A PALE-FACED SHEATHBILL landed on the lifeboat! KELP GULLS (6) were still around. The CHINSTRAP PENGUINS (100) put on quite a show, always boisterous, they seem to be the most pugnacious of all penguins! Some of these hatch year birds were so funny— picking up stones, and then seeming to look around, as if to say, "Now what do I do with this?" Bear in mind that this is the very end of the season, and nearly all of the wildlife has departed! The Antarctic season is best compared to the breeding season in the high Arctic, and not the temperate zones where most of us live. Once nesting is over, birds quickly depart.

Chinstrap Penguin image by Debra Shearwater
In the afternoon, we made a brief visit to the Chilean station for some "retail therapy" of which there is very little in this region. Also, a stop in the post office was made for stamping of passports.

Several countries have research stations on the Fildes Peninsula, including Russian, Chile, China, Uruguay, Argentina, Poland, Korea, Brasil, Peru, and Yugoslavia. We were told that each country is hoping to have a stake in the minerals that might some day be mined (!) in AntarcticaThe only airstrip in all the Antarctic Peninsula region capable of landing a large aircraft is located here. My personal opinion of this site is that is grossly misrepresents the "pristine" Antarctica, as trash is everywhere— littering all of the beaches. Save Our Shores needs to be hired to come in and clean the place up and teach these research stations a thing or two about trash! This was a raw introduction to the dark side of Antarctica.
We departed King George Island about 7 p.m. heading into the Bransfield Strait and Antarctic Sound, and on to Dundee Island.



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Antarctica, South Georgia, & The Falkland Islands: January 5-24, 2010

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