Antarctica Tour: Cierva Cove

By Jim Danzenbaker and Ann Nightingale

21 January 2012


Black ice rare and formed under extreme pressure, which squeezes out all the air bubbles, which refract light and make most ice look white or blue. (Photo by Ann Nightingale)

Jim’s View: Cierva Cove looked much better this morning than it did several mornings before–calm water with no swell which was perfect for cruising and several Humpback Whales in the area! After breakfast, we launched Zodiacs, I picked up my group and we headed to the ice. Glorious ice formations awaited us in all directions–a paradise that kept us heading for more. 

Based on the clicking of cameras, it was a huge hit and I personally enjoyed exploring the incredible display. One large iceberg had a small calving. Thankfully, we were at the proper distance and we rode out the small wave–a mini tsunami. It was a pleasant reminder that even a peaceful landscape can instantly turn violent. 

We cruised by a few loafing Leopard Seals but folks have seemingly had their fill of those already. A return for lunch allowed for camera batteries to be recharged and cards to be downloaded before heading out again for the afternoon. We set our towards several Humpbacks that had been spotted inside the neighboring bay and we were soon rewarded with close views of two whales feeding. They paid no attention to us and fluke photos were common. 


A South Polar Skua defends its patch of ice against another bird, apparently nonchalant about the Leopard Seal behind them. (Photo by Ann Nightingale)

Next, we were off to the island at the head of Cierva Cove which features a colony of Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins. We watched them battle the surf on the their way into and out of the water. Well-worn penguin trails mark the way to their island top nests. Even though we've seen over one million penguins on this trip, more penguins they continue capture most of the group's attention. 

Afterwards, we returned to the ice and a Zodiac rendezvous with Ted Cheeseman and Lynne Hoole, who awaited with some afternoon cookies and spiked hot chocolate –could life be any better? We headed back at around 5 p.m. – a little cold, but glad for this opportunity to enjoy the peninsula for one more day. Dinner and a relaying of the day’s experiences followed. Having developed a cold, I was asleep within two seconds after hitting the pillow. 

Ann's View: We’d passed by Cierva Cove on our way south, missing a planned Zodiac cruise due to the rough weather. It turned out to be an excellent decision, as when we arrived today the seas were calm. Eventually, the skies even showed a bit of blue. This “landing” didn’t involve landing at all, but rather spending the morning cruising through the ice to photograph icebergs and whatever wildlife we came across. 

There is an island with a large Chinstrap Penguin colony, but it is out of bounds and didn’t appear to have a landing spot for anything larger than a penguin anyway. We left the ship in clear water, but before long, we were grinding our way through brash ice in search of the most photogenic bergs. A Leopard Seal or two caused some distraction, but when they refused to give us a toothy yawn, we moved back to our ice expedition. 

The size of some of these icebergs is shocking. Some are larger than the islands in the bay. Most show the scars of collisions with other bergs or land, and several had the telltale marks of having flipped at least a few times. We were photographing a particularly sculptured large berg when all of a sudden the left end of it started to break away. Thankfully, we were far enough back to be safe, but close enough to have a cool view of a baby berg breaking away from the mother ship. The rule of thumb for approaching glaciers and large bergs is to be three times the height away from the ice. It’s a good rule!  


WOW! A Humpback Whale surfacing a few from the Zodiacs was a dream photo opportunity. (Photo by Ann Nightingale)


All too often this was all we could photograph when the Humpback Whales surfaced. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)

It was back to the ship for lunch. After the great morning we had, we decided to do it all again! A whale had been spotted from the ship, so we headed in that direction and were quickly rewarded for our efforts. Two Humpback Whales surfaced about 20 feet from the Zodiacs, so stealthily that most of us were not able to focus our cameras for shots. As they moved around the boats, it was a guessing game as to where they’d come up next. They moved on after a few minutes, but another appeared a short distance away. For the next half hour or so, we’d move the boats, sometimes in the right direction, other times the completely wrong way. While I got great shots of whale habitat (the ocean) and a few back and fluke shots, I eventually put the camera away and just enjoyed the experience. 


The constant comings and goings of penguins leave well-marked paths on the landscape. (Photo by Ann Nightingale)

Next we approached the island with the Chinstrap colony. The penguins resembled streams of ants as they moved up and down the green and pink snow. While the Antarctic has lots of white snow, the telltale sign of a penguin colony is the discoloration caused by thousands of little feet tracking algae and guano along their paths. I also learned that getting good shots of the penguins porpoising through the water takes more luck and skill than I possess. After several more hours in the ice, we were definitely getting a little chilled. And then the rescue Zodiac arrived! The expedition leader, Ted Cheeseman and ship’s doctor, Lynne Hoole, arrived with cookies and hot chocolate-spiked with Tia Maria for those who wanted a little extra warmth. By the time we returned to the ship, we’d spent about seven hours at this “landing” site, another amazing day in the southern ocean.


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