A few highlights:
- Adélie Penguins! (Definitely my favorite penguin species!) Sadly, we learned that, while Gentoo penguin populations are on the rise, Adélie and Chinstrap populations seem to be on the decline. Research is being done to try and determine the cause; with special care being made to evaluate the effects of eco-tourism.
- We got to see the Palmer Station, a United States research facility, in the distance. I’m pretty sure the resupply vessel RV Laurence M. Gould was visiting the station; very impressive. If you are planning to visit the peninsula, you may get to visit one of the working research stations in the area but don’t count on it. Our ship had already visited Palmer that season, so the Sea Spirit had already used up its quota. These are working research facilities, after all, and even the most patient scientist I know
can only say “No! No! No! Dont’s touch that!” so many times before losing ithas very little time to play tour guide. The fact that anyone can visit at all is an awesome courtesy.
- Grass! Leafy foliage of any certainly appears to be very rare on the continent, even on the coast during summer.
- Had you heard about the oil spill in Antarctica? Me neither. In 1989 an Argentine resupply vessel ran aground on a reef near Palmer Station spilling about 600,000 litres of fuel – the largest marine oil spill ever to occur in Antarctica. We visited the site and, while long term damage thankfully was fairly minimal, almost 25 years later you can still smell oil near the wreckage. A number of changes have been made since to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again, not the least of which is the restrictions on the use of heavy fuel in the region. Why did this spill fly under the media radar for the most part? The media was a tad distracted by a larger spill that occurred almost at the same time: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.
- Other wildlife we saw that day included juvenile elephant seals (they are huge!) and some sort of Antarctic Tern (Any fellow travelers want to have a look at the photos and verify the species for me?). The diving display put on by the latter was awesome to watch.