Thursday, January 5, 2012

Melchior Islands and cruising the Neumayer Channel (December 21, 2011)

After two days at sea I was dying to set foot on land, but it turned out I was going to have to wait a bit longer to set foot on terra firma.  Instead I had to settle for setting foot in a zodiac to do a bit of cruising to count an isolated colony of blue-eyed shags.  The Melchior Islands are not often visited (as there are no nesting penguins) so this stop presented a great opportunity to collect data from an infrequently censused site in the Oceanites database.

Though often considered some-what of a "wildlife desert" the southern extent of the Melchior Islands turned out to be an excellent first stop on this Antarctic Peninsula adventure.  I piled into a zodiac with a group of university students to find a colony of blue-eyed shags.  Neither Paula nor I had ever been to this site, so finding these nesting birds required a lot of searching through binoculars from the moving zodiac.  And yes, this makes me horribly sea-sick.  Paula's zodiac located the colony first and my zodiac pulled in shortly after to complete our count.  With the real work under our belts it was time to really explore!

Blue-eyed shags with chicks
The Melchior Islands are home to a small, abandoned Argentinian base.  This site also turned out to be the hub of most of the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic species we had hoped to see on this trip.  We found all three species of brush-tailed penguins (Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap), nesting Antarctic terns and kelp gulls, skuas, wilson storm petrels, crabeater seals, leopard seals, and Weddell seals.  Whew, what a morning!

Snoring crabeater seal.  I wish I had an audio recording, it was quite amusing!

A lone Adelie penguin among the scattered Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins hanging about the
Melchior station

As if our first day in the peninsula couldn't get any better, we came across a pod of killer whales as we cruised through the Neumayer Channel later this same day!  So far the wildlife sightings on this trip have been spectacular!

Young killer whale swimming with adults

Juvenile at the far left and an adult male at the far right

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