This morning, we were woken up at 5:00 a.m. Over the intercom, our expedition leader’s calm voice let us know that over thirty killer whales were surfacing around the boat. Weary-eyed and full of wonder, we all watched in the absolute stillness of the morning as over five groups of killer whales hunted and frolicked around the bay. Some chased penguins, and others seemed to be enjoying family time with their youngsters. After breakfast, we went ashore on Devil Island to enjoy an Adelie penguin colony amidst the bergs. Some of us hiked up the ridgeline, and some of us stayed along the beach. We were all treated to lots of calving icebergs as the tide continued to lower throughout our morning operations. In the afternoon, we set foot on the peninsula proper and explored Bald Head. Many Weddell seals and gentoo penguins frolicked on the beach while we hiked over the hill to the overlook. Along the hike, we found two mummified seal carcasses and stopped to admire their amazing teeth, which have adapted for eating krill.
National Geographic Explorer
Today was our last full day on board, so the decision was made to go big before we go home! National Geographic Explorer positioned beside Observatory Island at 5:00 am, and the deck crew dropped our Zodiacs as the sun rose behind the rugged peaks of Staten Island. We were going for a pre-breakfast cruise! Expedition travel always means being flexible, as changing weather and other factors can mean an abrupt change in plan. But this was yet another morning when we were able to accomplish Plan A. Near-windless conditions meant for a slow, glassy, rolling swell. That, coupled with the slanted golden light of early morning, made for a photographer’s dream! Observatory Island is seldom visited by anyone. The fur seals were curious about us, approaching our Zodiacs and kicking and splashing. We observed many bird species we had not yet seen on this voyage, ranging from snowy sheathbills (common in Antarctica) to black-faced ibises, and we had wonderfully close views of Magellanic penguins, both on land and at sea. By 8:00 am, we were back on the ship for a hot breakfast as we headed for Cabo San Juan and the famous “Lighthouse at the End of the World” on the remote eastern tip of Staten Island. With glassy sea conditions and the sun beating down on us, the weather was decidedly “un-Patagonian.” In fact, it was nearly tropical! It was perfect for a hike over rolling hills of spongy peat bog up to the lighthouse, where we looked down at our ship anchored in the turquoise waters of the kelp-fringed bay. It was a stunning end to an amazing nine days of Patagonian exploration. After lunch, National Geographic Explorer turned back westward and headed over sun-spangled seas towards Ushuaia, where we will finish our voyage tomorrow.