Antarctica – Day 4 – Wilhelmina Bay

The morning of Day 4 saw us exploring the Gentoo Penguin colony at Cuverville Island and, over lunch, the Vavilov re-positioned to Wilhelmina Bay for our second excursion of the day (yes, they planned to keep us busy)!    

This time it was a zodiac cruise to look for Antarctic mammals – particularly pertinent after Derek’s Cetaceans talk in the Vomitorium the day before!   We ran the Vavilov into the fast ice (ice that is attached to the continent) to come to a halt, which revealed the red algae that lives under the ice and provides food for the krill, which in turn provides food for the other marine mammals.

Algae from under the ice - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

Having driven the Vavilov into the pack ice, we could see the algae that blooms below it. This is what the krill feed on, which in turn feeds all of the Antarctic wildlife

First sighting was more Gentoo penguins, which we must have almost run over as we crashed into the ice!

Gentoos and the Vavilov - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

I love this image! The Gentoos seems to be saying “what the hell is this bloody great thing that just crashed into our home?”

Then we started playing with the Humpback whales (or perhaps they were playing with us?).   Lots of humps against stunning backdrops.

Humpback whale - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

Humpback whale arcing in Wilhelmina Bay

Lots and lots of “logging”, where they just lie on the surface and rest.

Humpback whale - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

Humpback whale “logging” in Wilhelmina Bay

And finally, a couple of occasions where they popped their heads up to see what was going on and what we were up to.   This was really spectacular!

Humpback Whale and kayakers - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

Humpback whale checking out the kayakers in Wilhelmina Bay

They were beautiful to watch and we followed them for ages!

We then moved around the bay to see what else we could see, and came across some Crabeater seals resting up on the ice.

Crabeater Seals - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

Notice the 2 long gashes on the Crabeater Seal in front. Such scars are one of the distinguishing features of this species of seal

The way you distinguish individual Crabeater seals is by their scars from where Orcas have had a go at them while they were pups.   They are thought to be the most numerous large mammals on earth after humans and to have some of the most highly specialised teeth in any animal – specifically for eating krill (no, they don’t eat crabs).

Crabeater Seal - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

A little later, there was a report of a Leopard seal (all the zodiac drivers communicate via walkie-talkie) so we motored over there for a look.

Leopard Seal - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

Leopard Seal relaxing on the ice

Leopard seals, so called because of their spotted fur and long sleek body, are one of the most dangerous seal types, and quite capable of killing a human.  They have a very varied diet and hunt by stealth from the ice, meaning that they do not dive for as long as some of the other seals.

We actually got to see a bunch of Gentoo penguins fleeing for their lives in the water – chased closely by a couple of Leopard seals.   The seals didn’t manage to get their meal, and they ended up on the edge of the ice … which promptly broke underneath them 🙂

Leopard seals hunting Gentoos - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

The ice collapsed under these Leopard Seals that were stalking the Gentoo Penguins

We found a few confused Adelie penguins (characterised by the white ring around their eye) that were hanging out with the Gentoos (remember, orange beaks and white eye patch). 

Gentoo Penguin and Adelie Penguin - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

The differences between the Adelie Penguin (left) and Gentoo Penguin (right) are quite easy to spot

Penguins are such indecisive birds – they waddle down to the edge of the ice, think about jumping in, change their mind and waddle back, return, think about it again, etc, etc, until one finally decides go for it – at which point they all immediately follow in the wake of the brave leader.

Penguins diving off ice - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

Very typical sight – penguins diving off ice into the ocean

Final stop for the zodiac cruise was the “Café on Ice”, where the One Ocean crew had set up a hot chocolate station that we zodiaced in to.   However, having just witnessed the edge of the ice dumping the leopard seals that were chasing the penguins … we drank quickly and got back in the boat!

The Ice Cafe - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

The “Ice Cafe” at Wilhelmina Bay

Back on board the Vavilov – it’s always interesting to watch the loading (or unloading) of the zodiacs and kayaks (the video is sped up 1.25x)

 

Which we followed up with the first dip in the hot-tub 🙂   I actually went in a little later (around 9pm) to watch the gorgeous light as the sun veeeeeeery slowly, and very briefly sets in this part of the world at this time of year. 

Hottub on the Vavilov - Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

Best place to be after the second excursion of the day – the Vavilov Hottub. Yes, Simon (the bird expert on the expedition) is wearing a penguin hat!

I have to admit, it could have been warmer in the tub (turns out you have to get in just when the cover is removed, it cools down pretty quickly after that), but the view was incredible!

Wilhelmina Bay - Antarctica

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