We were hoping to see a lot of wildlife on our trip down to Antarctica but because of the sea ice conditions we did not see a huge selection of animals, particularly the whales and orcas we were hoping to get a glimpse of. There was only one confirmed sighting of a whale during our trip and it was early morning (around 4 am) so only a few people were up to see it.
On the other hand, we did get to see quite a large variety of sea birds throughout the voyage and it was interesting to see how their distribution changed the further we travelled south. In the first few days, before we reached the Antarctic Convergence, we encountered lots of albatross, particularly the black-browed albatross and the incredibly magnificent wandering albatross. We also saw cape petrels, Antarctic prions and the occasional giant petrel. After crossing the Antarctic Convergence the albatross slowly disappeared and made way for Antarctic petrels and southern fulmars. Once we hit the ice edge we were delighted by the appearance of the beautiful white snow petrels. They would follow the ship, taking advantage of the broken ice to search for krill and other food in the water.
Of course we all reserved most of our excitement for the first sightings of the most popular Antarctic bird, the penguin. The two species of penguin that we saw during our trip south were the Adelie penguin and the emperor penguin. The emperor being significantly larger than the Adelie so they were easy to tell apart. To begin with, we saw them mostly as individuals on ice floes but as we got closer to the continent we started to see larger groups. The Adelies tend to stick together in groups, while the emperors seem to be more solitary while they are out in the ice feeding. I didn’t bring my camera with my good zoom lense on the ship (I put it in my cargo instead) so I didn’t get a lot of good pictures. We did, however, have a large group of 14 emperor penguins come and check out our big orange ship while we were breaking through some thick ice a few days before we got to Davis. It was incredible really how close they let us get to them before they decided it was best to get away.
We also saw a lot of crabeater seals, quite a few with new born seal pups. They were a lot more concerned with the ship than the penguins were and would slide around on the ice like giant slugs, hiding behind tall pieces of ice in the hope that we wouldn’t see them. Often we would see them in the distance hauled out and asleep on the ice, resting from their day of fishing. One time two seals even popped up in the cracks that we made in the ice while trying to break our way through. These seals were very curious to find out what we were and were trying to get as close to us as possible. These animals don’t really encounter threats outside of the water so it is not surprising that they were wondering what on earth we were.