We had high hopes of finding emperor penguins this morning, and we began our search near Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea. We were several miles from their northernmost colony–and our search was successful! We found five emperor penguins standing together on pack ice. They stood so tall with beautiful yellow markings on their heads…it was just thrilling to see them. Scattered about on other pieces of the broken pack ice, we observed several crabeater seals with blond coloration and distinctive scars that made them easy to identify. Those scars are evidence that the seals survived attacks from leopard seals when they were pups.
After breakfast, we continued enjoying the spectacular scenery of broken sea ice and large icebergs. Then we boarded expedition landing craft to see it all from a different perspective–flat pieces of pack ice, jumbles of loose brash ice, and the towering ice cliffs of Snow Hill Island. And we found more emperor penguins! Occasionally, they porpoised near our small boats. A few Adelie penguins stood on the ice as well, unaware that a predator lurked nearby–a huge leopard seal lifted his head out of the water to peer at them.
During the afternoon, we repositioned to the other side of Snow Hill Island, and the ship pushed its way through several hundred meters of pack ice. Then the captain drove the ship ahead into ‘fast ice’–frozen sea surface that is attached to land. National Geographic Resolution is designed to do this. The gangway was lowered when the ship came to a stop, and we ventured out to walk on the frozen ocean. We were prepared for cold conditions, but it was mild, sunny, and calm–perfect weather. Three emperor penguins approached the ship from astern and walked towards the bow before they stopped and stood a couple hundred meters away from the ship. We walked over to observe the penguins, and then many of us took a longer stroll towards a large iceberg that froze in place last winter. What a spectacular day! During recap, Captain Martin told us that seeing close to 50 emperor penguins over the course of one day was a highlight of his twenty-year career in Antarctic waters.