Danzenbaker Tour Journal: The South Shetland Islands

January 21: Hannah Point – Our last day on shore

One look out the cabin window caused me to wonder whether we could conduct the last landing of the trip. The winds had ramped up about 5:30am, generating some big swells and a nasty wind chop – not the best conditions for launching zodiacs! However, as we drew closer to Livingston Island in the South Shetlands, the waters settled enough for us to consider going for it. Launching the zodiacs proved less difficult than expected so we managed to get everyone ashore in a mostly dry state.


In general, penguins seem to be almost as interested in humans as we are about them. This adult Chinstrap Penguin eyeballs the photographer while getting its portrait taken.

Gail Cheeseman and I immediately started to mark routes from the beach. Our chosen path weaved through Chinstrap and Gentoo penguin colonies and ended up on a beach with cavorting Elephant Seals. Along the route, clusters of Antarctic Hairgrass and Antarctic Pearlwart were evident. The Chinstraps appeared to be thriving with young in most nests. The adults were, as usual, very noisy whether it be defending a territory, advertising for a mate, or renewing pair bonds. Their chest muscles clearly expanded and contracted as they belted out their calls. By contrast, the calls of the Gentoo Penguins were more subdued - softer in tone although no less effort made.

The Gentoo chicks were looking very healthy at this colony – some approaching the size of the adults and already molting their juvenile down. Unlike previous years, there were not many Gentoo chick chases – an indication that the nesting season may have been delayed by a week or so. As usual, the Elephant Seal wallows were putrid. There were about 20 molting animals lined up like huge snorting  sausages. Farther along, another  group of Elephant Seals featured occasional sparring matches. Southern Giant Petrels were nesting on the ridge behind the penguins. We had to assume that the giant petrels were brooding a single chick, though our viewing angle prevented us from seeing into their nests.


This warty-faced Sheathbill, which is seemingly half chicken and half tubenose, is not likely to land a spot on anyone's list of the most photogenic birds.

Most passengers returned to the Polar Star for lunch, but about 20 remained ashore to capture some last moments with the Antarctic wildlife. I served as ballast (can I put this on a resume'?) for Rod Planck’s zodiac as we ferried passengers back to shore after lunch – a wet proposition since the wind was still gusty and the seas remained agitated. During the afternoon we were overcome with the realization that we counting down our last minutes with the Elephant Seals, Gentoos, Chinstraps, Kelp Gulls,  Sheathbills,  skuas and giant petrels. After nearly a month of being immersed in this alternate reality, I found myself with a heavy heart as we left the landing for the last time. I hope that I will have the  opportunity to visit Antarctica again, but not knowing when that might occur brought on a wave of emotions. There was palpable sadness as anchor of the Polar Star was pulled for the last time.

As we commenced our long homeward leg of the trip, we headed west along the southern edge of Livingston Island before turning north to the Drake Passage. All on board hoped that we would somehow side-step the predicted storm that was being predicted for our second day on the Drake. Ten-meter swells and 45 knot winds would be extremely uncomfortable at best. 

All photos by Jim Danzenbaker


Wow! Great tnihikng! JK

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