Each day the participants on the voyage spend 4-5 hours on the leadership program and we attempt to have a landing or a zodiac cruise if landings are not possible. I am leading the on board science program with Dr Katherine Duncan from the University of Strathclyde. Kate was a participant on the second voyage (HB2) back in March. We hadn’t met before this voyage but had talked on whats app and zoom calls whilst preparing the program along with the science faculty founders, Dr Justine Shaw (University of Queensland) and Dr Mary-Anne Lea (University of Tasmania). Kate is a wealth of knowledge about the HB program, the ship and what we need to bring with us. Luckily, both she and Dr Sophie Adams (our wellbeing guru and also a HB2 alumna) brought real coffee, an important component for wellbeing on the ship as elsewhere!
Having only met on the 28thDecember, Kate and I are now sharing a cabin, running a science theme together, enjoying our new-found friendship and planning future science grant applications. We also get to be on one of the first zodiacs ashore in order to supervise the landings and are often last back as we round up the stragglers who just want an extra minute ashore and, that last photograph or video.
The next landing is on Cuverville Island (7thJan) where we find Gentoo penguins nesting and skuas patrolling.
Cuverville Island is very snowy and the chicks were tiny, but at one end it has the most amazing wall of moss, a whole cliff face, green and grey against the white-grey sky. I would love to visit again and take moss samples for dating, to see how old these moss forests are.
We watched penguins rolling eggs or feeding chicks as well as well as mating. Presumably many of these Gentoo penguins have also had aborted attempts at rearing their first clutch of chicks this season.
I take the opportunity to segue from penguin sex to moss sex to the amusement of the nearby participants and Fern Hames (Arthur Rylah Institute)our on-board Sci-Comms facilitator.
On the way back to the ship we have a spectacular iceberg cruise, full of amazing blue, turquoise and white shapes against the grey of the sea.
The Ushuaia then started sailing down the western side of the peninsula and the following day (6th Jan) we went ashore at Hydruga Rocks where we saw Chinstrap penguins nesting. There was lots of snow as we moved southwards down the peninsula and this is not good news for the nesting birds, since most of them want rocky surfaces to nest on. Frequent falls of snow during the summer mean that the penguins have trouble finding nesting sites and pebbles to build their nests and Monica thinks that many have already had failed attempts at nesting this season. Many are still sitting on eggs, possibly their second attempts this year and the chicks we see are very small.
There are also weddell and crabeater seals on the island as well as giant petrels, Antarctic sheathbills and cormorants. The kelp gulls have assembled a midden of limpit shells on the crest of the island near their nest sites.
The soft snow also makes for interesting travelling for us. Many of the participants are new to walking in snow and it proves especially challenging when we attempt to assemble everyone into a heart shape for some Homeward Bound publicity shots. Penguins even come up to see what we are are doing.
That night we moor in the peaceful and stunningly beautiful Wilhelmina Bay and enjoy the frolicking of lots of humpback whales.