From Hovgaard, we made our way toward Petermann Island to visit a mixed colony of Adelie and Gentoo penguins. This would be our first glimpse of the Adelie penguin, who shared the cliffs with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Gentoos. It was an icy trek up the hillside, and it was important to tread carefully, because … penguin poop. Lots of it. I had become renowned for my lack of grace over the course of the trip, but this was terrific incentive to remain vertical.
Petermann Island was the southernmost point of our trip, and my melancholy grew as we watched the antics of the goofy population of tuxedo-clad, flightless seabirds. We had one more colony to visit, but after that, would I have the opportunity to again stand in their midst? It was fascinating to be able to spend time studying their behavior. Stealing stones was universal across the species we observed. One penguin would work stealthily, slowly moving one stone at a time from their neighbor’s nest to their own. All the while, another penguin was stealing from them. In the distance, two Gentoos worked together to herd chicks away from marauding skuas. One would distract the skua while a second would herd the chicks in to a protected area. I tried to memorize the way they fed, the way they waddled, and the calls they made. I don’t ever want to forget these extraordinary days. As we headed down toward the zodiac, I looked off to a small inlet south of the colony. Varying sizes of vibrant blue icebergs rose and fell with the ebb and flow of the tide. A seal, scarred with the bite of a foiled orca attack, rested on the shore. Extraordinary days, indeed.
Once we were back onboard, we headed toward Port Lockroy, where we would spend the night. Port Lockroy was home to whalers and scientists for over a century. In 1944 “Base A” was built, and it was the first permanent British base established on the peninsula. Today, it is a living museum, and holds the memories, stories, and equipment of several lifetimes of explorers. When they were refurbishing the building, they discovered painted-over artwork in the bedroom quarters. Nude likenesses of bygone stars lined the walls … Elizabeth Taylor, Jayne Mansfield … inventive young men, those early explorers. The kitchen counter held a regional cookbook, and the page was turned to “Seal Brain Omelette”. Necessity is the mother of invention, so break out the eggs, boys … breakfast is served! Base A also provided postal services, so we filled out postcards, which we’ll eagerly await once we’re back in the states.
Port Lockroy is home to a team of four over the summer months. The team hosts guests, collects data, observes wildlife, and other important work during their tenure. While we were there, they were working on archiving artifacts. I thought it would be lonely work until I discovered that thousands of visitors pass through the base each season. They would likely welcome a day of solitude!
We’ll overnight here just off of Goudier Island. Tomorrow, we’ll make our way northward, after we have one last visit with the comical Gentoos. I feel a tightening in my gut, and a sense of anticipation slowly grows. The Drake is coming.