Weddell Sea - In Search of Emperor Penguins

OTL23, Nov 27 - Dec 07, 2016, 10 nights. Ushuaia - Ushuaia

A typical itinerary to the Weddell Sea is illustrated below. All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions, the availability of landing sites and opportunities to see wildlife. The final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises.

A possible route map

The ship arrives at Brown Bluff volcano

Enjoying a sigh-seeing flight

The ship arrives at the ice edge from now on we need helicopters...

One of the helicopters

Emperor penguins walking back to the colony

At the helicopter landing site on the sea ice

Proud parents...

GeoWorld Travel Director James Cresswell in the hot seat!

Looking down on sea ice and the site of a dinosaur find on Vega Island

Flying over volcanic Vega Island

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GeoWorld Travel Director James Cresswell was on the 2013 trip that successfully reached the Snow Hill Emperor Penguin colony.

Your unique chance to be part of a true expedition voyage! The Emperor Penguin rookery (ca. 4,000 breeding pairs) is situated south of Snow Hill Island. Although we will probably not be able to reach that far south through the ice (less than 50 % chance based on our voyages in the last three seasons), the idea is mainly to situate ourselves in or between the Antarctic Sound and James Ross Island, close to the ice-edge and observe the emperor penguins on their way to the open water. We will use our helicopters in our attempts to search for individual emperor penguins, to make scenic flights and to make helicopter landings in places otherwise inaccessible so early in the season.

If ice-conditions are favorable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice, we will reschedule our voyage and offer ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island (as carried out successfully in 2013) at approx. 45 minutes walking distance from the emperor penguin Rookery. If we succeed, this will be a fascinating and a once-in-a lifetime experience. However, we made attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during our voyages in 2012, 2013 and 2014. We only succeeded in 2013; therefore the chances to reach Snow Hill Island are indeed less than 50 %. 

Day 1: Ushuaia - In the afternoon, we embark in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world located at the Beagle Channel and sail through this scenic waterway for the rest of the evening.

Day 2 & 3: At sea - During these two days we will sail across the Drake Passage. When we cross the Antarctic Convergence, we arrive in the circum-Antarctic up welling zone. In this area we may meet Wandering Albatrosses, Grey-headed Albatrosses, Black-browed Albatrosses, Light-mantled Albatrosses, Cape Petrels, Southern Fulmars, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels.

Day 4 - 7:The Weddell Sea - A typical itinerary in the Weddell Sea could be as follows. This is a sample only, the final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board.

We will sail into the Weddell Sea and if the Antarctic Sound is accessible and the ice does not prevent us to sail further, we might see the huge tabular icebergs that announce our arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

During these days we use the helicopters in our attempts to find individual Emperor Penguins. During our previous voyages we were always able to locate emperors. We will also offer scenic flights and – if the conditions allow us - helicopter landings on tabular ice-bergs and locations otherwise inaccessible so early in the season. 

Possible landing sites is for example Brown Bluff, probably the most scenic spot in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent. With steep canyon walls and tumbled boulders, an ice-cap looming above, beautiful volcanic creations and the scene is complete with thousands of Adélie penguins nesting on the slopes, and a few Gentoo’s mixed in for fun.

Helicopter flights are a great contribution to the voyage, for example on the west side of the Antarctic Sound, an area usually only rarely seen from the air. The scenery is stunning with landscapes of layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers tumbling into the sea and ice-bergs and pack-ice as far as the eye can see. We can observe individual Emperor Penguins and Adélie Penguins on the ice floes; Cape-, Snow, and Giant Petrels fly high in the sky while Kelp Gulls, skuas and Wilson’s Storm Petrels scavenge down below us. The landscape is dominated by Jagged mountains pierced through the ice-caps and walls of ice dropped onto the slopes below.

A beautiful helicopter flight over huge blue icebergs and fast ice can also be made close to View Point in Duse Bay. We land on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking the bay. There will be still a lot of snow and ice but much of the intended walk on the Antarctic continent will be over a beautiful frost-shattered rock, almost entirely covered with the most fascinating lichen of all shapes and colors.

If the ice-situation allows us to go further into the Weddell Sea area, we will visit Devil Island and Vega Island with a large colony of Adélie Penguins and a magnificent view for those hikers who can make it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes provides spectacular waterfall from the cliffs close to point ‘Well-Met’. Further south, we may also visit Seymour Island, where many fossils can be found.

On our way north through the Antarctic Sound we might pay a visit to the Argentinean station Esperanza on the Antarctic Continent. We will still look out for Emperor Penguins on the ice-floes. In the afternoon we may visit Gourdin Island, with three penguin species; Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie.

Day 8: In the morning we plan to visit Half Moon Island where we can see Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins, various other bird-species as well as a chance for Southern elephant seals and Weddell seals.

Early in the afternoon we will sail to Deception Island where we have the last landing of our voyage at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay.

Day 9 & 10: At sea - In the Drake Passage we have again a chance of seeing many seabirds and to take advantage of the knowledge of our lecture team.

Day 11: Ushuaia - We arrive in the morning in Ushuaia and disembark.

Alternative program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice (less than 50 % chance):

Day 5 - 6:The use of helicopters has a great advantage and can support us in our goal to reach the Emperor Penguin colony, but the itinerary is ruled by the forces of nature, ice and weather conditions. If the conditions are favourable, we intend to spend the first two days in the Emperor Penguin rookery. The helicopter operation will take a full day and the flight duration takes approximately 15 minutes. The helicopter can accommodate 6 passengers per helicopter flight. The landing point of the helicopters will be carefully chosen and we will make sure that the Emperors Penguins are not disturbed or stressed by helicopter noise. Therefore, after arrival, the passengers continue their expedition on foot. After a walk of approx. 45 minutes, passengers will experience an amazing rendezvous with the magnificent Emperor Penguins. Keep in mind that we are in the world’s most remote area and there are no guarantees, including a specific amount of helicopter time. Conditions may change rapidly, having its impact on the helicopter operation and passengers should understand and accept this. Safety is our greatest concern and no compromises can be made. 

Images from this trip