Day 3 – Monday, January 31, 2005 Travel to Half Moon Island
The morning light peaked out from the darkness of the earth and exposed land for the first time in over a day. We were on our way to Half Moon Island which is part of the Shetland Islands. One of the perks of being the IAATO observer is that I always got to go with the lead naturalist group to scout the landings for suitable routs so as not to disturb the wildlife and here the vegetation. We departed early in the morning and loaded into a Zodiac boat (a large rubber boat with an outboard motor) and were ferried to land. Floating past ice with peaks in the background we landed at a small rocky beach marked by small rotting dory that once held whale hunters. Once landed we marked a trail to let the guest see the penguins here but they were not to get closer than 5 meters or about 15 feet. But if the penguins walked towards you, then you were instructed to remain still until they passed by and they often got very close to people doing this. There was a large colony of Chinstrap Penguins here and with the calm partly cloudy day viewing was spectacular.
Traveling from one place to another is a treat all by itself… ice bergs, mountain peaks, glaciers, and cloud and ice art (as I call it) are everywhere. We are headed to Penguin Island which lies close off the south coast of King George Island. Penguin Island was first sighted in January 1820 during a British expedition by Edward Bransfield. He named the place as such because of the many penguins occupying the shoreline of the island.
Once again we are the first zodiac off and as we motor in towards our landing area… the reddish island ahead was quite a sight since it sports a couple of volcanoes. The beach was full of chin strapped penguins, fur seals and elephant seals that were feasting on krill from the sea.
The Expedition Team Leader, John Kernan, pointed out a rarity in Antarctica… something green, the Antarctic Hair Grass Deschampsia antarctica near the landing. There are no trees or shrubs on Antarctica and there are only two flowering plants with the Hair Grass being one. The other is Colobanthus quitensis, the Antarctic pearlwort, which to our delight we were also able to find. After finding all the flowering plants that grow in Antarctica it was time to move. The trail to the rim of the volcano was fairly steep and with the multiple layers of clothing and wellies (as the British called their boots), it was got quite warm walking to the top. On top I walked around the entire rim while marveling at what appeared to be a lava dome bulging upwards from the center. looks like this one is going to blow again some day as it seems to be still active. So how often do you get to walk up a volcano in Antarctica?. NOTE: the Antarctic krill, a shrimp-like marine crustaceans, makes up an estimated biomass of over 500,000,000 metric tons. Of this, over half is eaten by whales, seals, penguins, squid and fish each year, and is replaced by growth and reproduction.