Antarctica, Day 3: South Shetland Islands

December 22, 2019

Paul Kay

We’re traveling Antarctica on Silversea Cruises. Today we arrived at the South Shetland Islands. Here’s how our trip has gone so far.

We squeezed in a landing on Half Moon Island, which is part of the South Shetland Islands, just north of Antarctica. Silversea briefed us early in the day; lectures scheduled all afternoon were postponed. We’d been at sea for a day and made it through an unusually gentle Drake Passage. Now we had a chance to get on a Zodiac and feel land beneath our feet.

Chinstrap Penguin, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

 Sporting its chinstrap

Half Moon Island is home to lots of chinstrap penguins. These penguins looks like they are wearing a black chinstrap. We walked a long way after landing through large groups of them. Penguins travel across Half Moon on the penguin highway.

Watching a penguin walk (or waddle) you notice they’re not very stable and sometimes hop among the rocks. They prefer a snow path that they create themselves. Upon completion, the penguins in the rookery follow this penguin highway. We avoided the penguin highway so we wouldn’t confuse the penguins. They came close to us as we approached their nesting area where chicks were hatching daily, and others were on their way.

Male Chinstrap Penguin with Chicks, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

 A dad with his chicks

Most penguin chicks hatch in the beginning of the summer. Penguins do not mate for life, but they depend on each other as co-parents. Mom lays the egg. During this process she hasn’t eaten for a long time. So, she gives up her seat on her nest to Dad. He protects the egg and does not move from it for months. While protecting the egg, Dad does not eat. He cannot take the chance of leaving his unborn chick unprotected. Birds attack unprotected eggs. After several months, Mom returns. When the chick hatches, Mom and Dad share parenting duties until the chick can survive on its own.

Chinstrap Penguin and Chicks, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

 Another penguin parenting moment

On Half Moon we climbed to the rookery to see the various stages of chickhood. We saw lots of dads keeping their chicks warm. We also saw birds circling and penguins barking at them. Barking alerts the rookery of a predator. We didn’t see any eggs stolen.

Chinstrap Penguins with Kevin the Macaroni Penguin, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

 Kevin getting along the chinstraps

Our guide told us the story of one penguin named Kevin.

Kevin isn’t a chinstrap penguin; he’s a macaroni penguin. Our naturalists wonder how he managed to get to Half Moon Island all by himself. The other chinstrap penguins seem not to mind Kevin. But it’s unclear if he has a mate since he clearly is a different species.

In fact, Kevin could be Katrina. Nobody knows his or her gender, but Kevin is his name for now.

Macaroni Penguin, Saunders Island, Falkland Islands, Antarctica

 Macaroni have a feather in their cap

Macaroni penguins mostly live on the Falklands Islands, far north of Half Moon Island. The name macaroni came from the Falkland Islands in the early 19th century when English sailors noted these penguins’ yellow crest. Remember the song “Yankee Doodle” and the line, “stuck a feather in his cap?” Kevin’s yellow crest looks an awful lot like a feather in a cap, doesn’t it? The name stuck, and the bright crest gives away for our friend, Kevin.

Madeline and Paul with Chinstrap Penguins, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

You don’t learn about penguins without learning about penguin guano. It’s everywhere! So is that distinctive guano fragrance. And since penguins don’t move while they’re raising their chicks, the rookery was especially fragrant. But the cold 32-degree winds kept it manageable.

Silver Cloud, at Anchor, Silversea Cruises, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

 The Silver Cloud eagerly awaiting our return

After our Half Moon expedition, we returned to our Zodiacs. We did the guano shuffle in the rocks and water to clean our boots. We washed our hiking poles in the sea, too. The Silver Cloud patiently waited for us to return on the Zodiacs. (Our guides refer to them as Zubers or Zodiac Uber rides.)

When we returned to the ship, we serviced our boot at the washing station, which was impressive. You walk through it, and bristles with cleaning solution scrub the tops and bottoms of your boots and clean your pant legs.

After the boot-cleaning process, we went to the washing area. Here we used brushes to continue to clean our pants and poles ensuring we weren’t bringing anything back with us. We stored our boots in the mud room on a drying rack. After we returned to our cabin, we peeled off our clothing layers and cleaned ourselves up for dinner.

We made it to the South Shetland Islands. But we still haven’t stepped foot on Antarctica. That comes tomorrow at Orne Harbor.

Chinstrap Penguin Heading to the Penguin Highway, Half Moon Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

 One last shot of a chinstrap before we said goodbye

We said goodbye to our chinstrap pals. They tolerated our visit well. And observed them co-parenting, keeping their chicks warm and safe. Summer is a great time to visit as chicks are hatching daily. And those chicks are safely tucked under Dad, who is still waiting for Mom to arrive after feeding and regaining her strength.

Tomorrow brings a trip scheduled for seven o’clock in the morning. And in the afternoon, we’re headed to Gonzalez Videla Station on the Antarctic continent, operated Chile. It’s a tourist spot and our first chance for some souvenirs!

That's it for Day 3 of our trip to Antarctica. More tomorrow!

Tips: You can learn how we planned our trip by reading Planning Our Antarctica Trip. Learn what we read to prepare at Reading Antarctica. And you can find out what we packed at Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea.

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Planning Our Antarctica Trip
Cruising Antarctica 101
Reading: Antarctica
Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea
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