The seas calmed during the night, and morning greeted us with a smooth ocean of a gentle rolling swell. As we made our way towards the South Shetland Islands and our first glimpse of Antarctic land, we were greeted with whale blows in every direction. The water sent up by the explosive force of a large whale exhaling can be seen for miles and is the most used means for locating whales. Today, we were literally surrounded by fin and humpback whale blows. Several fin whales surfaced close enough to National Geographic Explorer that we could see the white right sides of their bodies. We observed an entourage of petrels and even an occasional group of porpoising penguins as we made our way closer to the snowcapped mountains in front of us.
We spent our afternoon at Half Moon Island. This island is home to a chinstrap penguin colony, a Weddell seal haul out, and Camara Base, an Argentine research base. We landed on beaches covered in snow and large pebbles. Some of us hiked to the highest point, where we were met with exhilarating views of glaciers and the peaks on Livingston Island. We walked along the terraced beaches, the result of isostatic uplift and storm surge from the Southern Ocean. We observed Weddell seals as they rested in the sun. They are shedding during their annual molt. We watched chinstrap penguins come in from the sea and make their way up to hungry, waiting chicks. It was a remarkably beautiful day in the South Shetlands and having made great time across the Drake Passage, it was a real treat to land here this afternoon.