The Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland islands are with relatively mild climates, with temperatures above freezing in the summer and liquid water. They are a paradise for wildlife, with an abundance of different creatures – whales, seals, birds and of course penguins. In the few short summer months, they feed, reproduce and thrive.
Of course, when we hear Antarctica, we think penguins. Together with owls, penguins are the first birds children learn to recognize. They are truly adorable and everybody loves them. In our pictures, you can see how lovely they look, in the videos you can hear the noise they made, but there is no way to show how they smell. The smell around a penguin colony is suffocating. It lingered in my nose for hours after we returned to the ship and everything around me smelled like rotten fish and penguin poo.
But this is small discomfort for the exceptional pleasure to be in their company.
The Gentoo penguin is easily recognizable by the red beak and white spots over the eyes. They can reach up to 80 cm and are the third large penguin species.
There were huge colonies of Gentoo penguins on the peninsula and the islands. They are curious, especially the juveniles, they are not afraid of people and they are as lovely, as a baby penguin can be. Their nests are made of stones and the stones are very precious in the community.
A male can get a favour from a lady when offering her a nice-looking stone.
During our visit, we interacted mostly with young Gentoo penguins. The teenagers stay at land until they change their baby down with adult waterproof feathers.
A young penguin in the process of moulting is one of the most adorable sights.
Very often colonies of two and sometimes three penguin species nest together. The Chinstrap penguins we observed were mixed with Gentoo on the South Shetland Islands and Atlantic peninsula. The Chinstraps are smaller than Gentoo, they have a dark beak and lovely black band on their neck.
The Chinstrap penguin above is stealing stones from his Gentoo neighbour.
They are smaller and usually live and breed on the Falkland Islands and on the shores of the South American continent in Argentina and Chile. They laid their eggs under the bushes or in burrows.
Some of the biggest breeding colonies of Magellanic penguins are in Argentina.
This is one of my favourite penguin species we have seen. They are so ridiculously looking, that we always started laughing when we met one of them.
The King is the King.
We didn’t have a chance to meet the Emperor, they are not in this area at this time of the year. The King penguins nest in the Falkland islands. They are beautiful and very elegant. They lay only one egg and carry it on their feet.
When the baby hatches, it continues to stay under the parents’ feathers for most of the time. The small King baby looks like a baby dragon. The cheeks that are hatched lately, like those ones have a lower chance of surviving the winter, as parents’ feeding trips are less frequent and the youngster will be left alone for extended periods of time.
We saw different species of seals like the Antarctic fur seal, Crabeater seal, and Weddell seal. All of them were very curious and playful.
Despite his beautiful looks, the Leopard seal is one of the most dangerous predators in the Antarctic waters.
He eats penguins, small seals and anything he could catch. Sometimes he attacks and even punches Zodiac boats.
The big guy owns the entire harem of females around him and spends most of his time on the shore sleeping.
When he is awake, he is very bossy and grumpy.
Swimming with whales is one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life.
It was a warm and sunny day and there were more than 50 whales in the small bay. They fed and played around us, showing their heads, backs and tails.
One of the whales swam around our Zodiac for half an hour, going from left to right and back, looking at us. At some times it was so close to me, that I could have touched it.
All the whales swam around us gently and graciously, we weren’t even splashed with water.
Killer Whales or Orcas
They are predators everyone is afraid of but they look very beautiful in the water.
They liked to swim around the Zodiac.
One of the largest flying birds on the planet (The wandering Albatross has a wing span of 3 meters). They are known for spending weeks in the ocean searching for food, often flying up to 1,000 kilometres from their nesting grounds.
There is nothing fluffier than baby albatross.
They spend weeks in their nests waiting for their parents to come back and feed them. It takes more than a year to grow up and leave the nest.