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Published: February 21st 2018
Ship is anchored by Barrientos- Aitcho islands. (Originally Hydrographic Office hence HO, then Aitcho). Temperature about 2 degrees but wind chill making it below freezing. Bright early with cloud later starting to drizzle. All geared up with thermal leggings, padded trousers covered by waterproof trousers over heavy boots. Jumper, fleece and huge red jacket, hats, gloves etc. All our gear has been checked and hoovered the day before to make sure we are not introducing any seeds onto the Continent. 6 to 8 people on the Zodiac, which moves fast to the shore, swing legs over into the water – only ankle deep and wade ashore. Large numbers of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins which are moulting. The babies are now about 4 months old and losing their fluffy feathers. The adults have to moult all their feathers over a two-week period during which time they are not waterproof so cannot swim and feed themselves or their offspring. Once all have moulted they can get into the water and fish. There are a few carcasses around as their main predators are the Skua birds. There were also a few seals along the shore line and some large vertebrae from a whale. The
penguins are all a bit smelly but are so cute and there are lines of penguin poo everywhere. White poo is from fish and pink poo from krill. Saw one in action- lean forward, squirt it out in a stream and not care who is behind! They are very curious and come up to see what all these large red birds are doing walking around their island. We are told not to approach nearer than 5 meters but the penguins don’t know this rule and come waddling up to have a good look. Back to the Zodiac and the ship followed by complicated decontamination procedure involving stepping onto a machine to scrub the boots, another to spray any residual dirt off and finally taking them off and giving a final spray- all done in the “mud room”, where we leave the poles and boots and change into other shoes.
Having an elegant lunch on board was like being in another world. The ship sailed and 2 hours later anchored off Yankee Harbour in the South Shetland islands. Off we set on the Zodiac but the weather has deteriorated so we have to lean in and face out
of the wind, driving rain and choppy waves drenching us before we reach land. (And yes, we have paid a lot of money to do this!!). We pile off the Zodiacs and see shit loads of more Gentoos (literally). There are Antarctic Fur seals which differ from other seals in that they shuffle along on four legs and have little ears. The weather now had deteriorated further so we did not stay long and after about 20 mins were back on the Zodiac and heading for home and the usual decontamination procedure. Just hope there is a break in the weather for tomorrow.
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