Our first Antarctic outing was a zodiac ride in Orne Harbour, a cove one mile wide, indenting the west coast of Graham Land along the Danco Coast on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Seeing all this wonderful wildlife such as Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins, Weddell Seals and Humpback Whales in their natural habitat was a dream come true.
Rocky landscapes of Orne Harbour
Orne Harbour was first discovered by the Belgian Antarctic Expedition under Gerlache in 1898 and comprises of a rocky shoreline below scree slopes and patches of permanent snow, rising to a saddle which overlooks Errera Channel and Gerlache Strait.
From the southern side of the saddle, a steep, black rocky headland called Spigot Peak rises 285m above sea level. Whilst our group took a ride in the zodiac, another group were mountaineering the peak which is covered with deep compacted snow and ice.
Everywhere you look in Orne Harbour you see such beautiful shapes of the glaciers, we stay far enough away in case of calving which can cause almighty crashing waves. As we look behind us, the sun creates a soft pastel glow behind the cove.
Foraging Gentoo Penguins
We pass a raft of Gentoo penguins swimming at great speed, dipping up and down out of the water. Did you know Gentoos have been known to make up to as many as 450 dives in one day to forage for food? They can also dive as deep as 200 meters and stay underwater for up to 7 minutes. It’s funny to watch them shoot up out the water like a bar of soap that’s slipped up through your hands.
Chinstrap Penguins nesting
The most common penguins on Orne Harbour is the Chinstrap Penguins, its name stems from the narrow black band under its head making them look like they are wearing a black hat. They are sometimes referred to as ‘Stonebreaker Penguins’ owing to their very loud squawk that could break stones. Whilst they are considered the most aggressive in the penguin world, these cuties are monogamous and return to the same mate each year for breeding.
Watching the Weddell Seals
On the edge of Orne Harbour we see two Weddell Seals, one smiling in the snow with scratches from Leopard Seals across their back. The other curiously raises his head slowly scratches his back before dropping his head back down. What a life!
Waiting for the Humpback Whale
Excited to say we had a sighting of two Humpback Whales. Considering they are known for their acrobatic behaviour with breaching and fin slapping, these were pretty shy, the krill down there must’ve been too tasty. There was a fair amount of spouting from the Humpback’s which can typically reach as high as 6 metres and can be heard over 200 metres away. We sat for some time awaiting the big action, it was still crazy to be actually seeing Humpback Whales in their natural habitat of Antarctica.
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