Once a year, penguins go through what is called a catastrophic molt, where they shed all of their feathers at once. It takes 2-3 weeks and they cannot go to sea to feed in this time, so they are fasting AND uncomfortable. We keep a far distance from molters, if we disturb them and they move, they’re expending precious energy they need to keep warm.
Photos: Molting Adelie’s in the Mist Rock Islands, South of the Antarctic Circle and a molting King Penguin in South Georgia
This is Pyramiden (Google Map), an abandoned Russian coal mining town in Svalbard, the archipelago where my ship, the M/S Expedition spends its Arctic season.
Pyramiden at one time had 1,000 working residents but was abandoned in a hurry in 1998, and the majority of structures have been left to decay, including men’s and women’s housing, a theater, swimming pool, cafeteria and administrative buildings.
It’s a fascinating place. Today, 15-30 Russians are hired to maintain the town, which mostly means making sure tourists don’t come and trash it. Sasha, above with the rifle, spent the last summer there as a tour guide, greeting folks like us at the pier and offering to walk us around town. There’s also a hotel and bar, though I’m not sure the hotel ever gets any business. The bar is a blast, they are so friendly, but it also feels a little bit like that hotel bar scene in The Shining. You know the one? It’s always unnerving to see so many rifles near shots of vodka.
Grass does not grow at such high latitudes, so the lawn in the center of “town” was actually imported from Siberia.
A visit to Pyramiden is always polarizing with our guests, half love it and half hate it. I guess abandoned buildings aren’t for everyone, but to me it’s absolutely thrilling. Really looking forward to getting a chance to explore more of this place this summer.
These are Brown Skuas on Cuverville Island (Google Map), Antarctic Peninsula. I’ve only been ashore at beautiful Cuverville one time (this time) and jumped at the chance to hike up the scrambly rock to a viewpoint out over the bay. This particular day, fellow Staff Bob decided to hike on higher but I stayed at this spot when I caught glimpse of a little baby Skua chick. I spent a full hour with this small family, at a distance and then once the parents were comfortable with me, slowly edged a bit closer.
This chick was so, so cute but her (just guessing the sex, here) wings were teeny tiny. I would guess her age somewhere between 3 and 5 weeks. You can see in one photo that she was really contemplating trying her hand at flying. Thank goodness she didn’t, far too young.
I had a great time up there, especially as the snow began to fall. Just before I left, another Skua decided to have some fun with my camera bag, and attempted to fly away with it for over 20 minutes. Must have been exhausting! By the end I was really rooting it on to at least get some air.
When I got back to the ship and showed some other Staff the photos of the chick, they suspected that it might not make it, having been born so late in the season. A few days later, while we were already further South on the Peninsula, we were hit with a big storm which dumped tons of fresh snow all over the area.
When we were back at Cuverville a week later, the rocks were all covered with thick snow. I was down in a Zodiac but asked Bob to have a look for me and unfortunately, no chicks in sight. Safe to say the little one didn’t make it, which is a straight-up bummer. So, at least she lives on here in these photos.
Dutch photographer and filmmaker Frans Hofmeester filmed his daughter, Lotte, once a week from the time she was a baby until she was 14. He then edited the clips together into a stunning time-lapse video that showcases his daughter’s childhood. [source]
Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano in the South Shetland Islands archipelago, just off the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a very popular stop on expeditions such as ours as it is the most suitable place to do the highly anticipated Polar Plunge, which I have now done three times and do not feel the need to do ever, ever again. It’s also a great place for a hike around the various craters and is home to a number of interesting ruins, like a derelict aircraft hangar, rusting boilers and tanks.
Even though historically it was used as a refuge from storms and ice, it is pretty much always terrible, dreary weather at Deception Island.
Large eruptions have occurred roughly every 40-50 years, the last being in 1969, so… we’re overdue and I often wonder each time we go, if today might be the day.
As you’ll see from this Google Map, Deception Island is horseshoe shape with a very narrow entrance. In the middle of that entrance is a large, submerged rock which is to blame for at least 1 shipwreck and many, many “dings” over the years.
While not quite as scenic as some of the other places we visit, Deception Island holds a great deal of history and everyone (no, not everyone) enjoys a chance to take a dip in polar waters, which is usually 1°C / 34°F. Not pleasant, but quite invigorating.
This is the Russian NS 50 Years of Victory, it is the largest nuclear-powered icebreaker in the world and travels to the North Pole 3 times each Northern summer with a group of adventurous guests. It can break through up to 3 meters of ice. It also has a helicopter.
This summer, I’ll be spending 6 weeks on 50 Years as Expedition Photographer, and will also be managing its social media dispatches from the far North.
I still can’t wrap my head around what it will feel like to literally stand on top of the world. With 2 seasons on the M/S Expedition under my belt, I am more prepared for what is to come than I would be if I were entirely new to the expedition cruising industry, but getting on a new ship, with a staff & crew I haven’t met before, I’m just a lil’ overwhelmed. But the good kind. I’m meant to learn German. I really need to get on that, like yesterday.
This summer will be tops. My time on 50 Years will be preceded by 5 weeks back on the Expedition as Assistant Expedition Leader, the role I just held in the Antarctic. Life’s kinda crazy, huh?
So, if you’d like to come to the North Pole this summer, the cheapest ticket is only $24,995. :/ Or, you can also just follow along on Tumblr. Also a good option.
This photo was taken on Booth Island (Google Map), looking into Pleneau Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. This is where polar explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot overwintered in 1904 during his French Antarctic Expedition. He was known for sitting on the ice drinking wine and eating cheese - awesome dude. Left here are the remains of a cairn and an observatory, where a break in the “window” perfectly frames Mount Francais, named for Charcot’s ship. There is also an “F” scratched into the sheer rock which leads up to the cairn.
There’s a story about this photo. When I took it, I could not tell what the orange object was to the right of the fur seal. I squinted, tried to zoom in on it and decided it must be a glove. Only when I got back to the ship to edit did I realize it was the remains of a penguin, sitting perfectly on the rock, possibly eaten by this very fur seal.
The other part of the story is about this day in particular, which stands out as the craziest of my season. It was the 2nd to last trip and the weather had been simply horrid. 4 days of cancelled landings, blizzards, hurricane-force winds. We saw a brief break in the weather and decided to make a go for it at Booth Island, with the agreement among the staff, crew and bridge that if the winds picked up over 45 knots we would hear blows of the ship’s horn and leave shore immediately. I hopped in a Zodiac to be a driver for the operation (with a quick trip to shore to take a few photos), and winds quickly picked up. 45 knots, 50 knots, 55 knots. You can see in this photo that we had 2 anchors down, which is rarely done. It was the only way our bridge team could hold our position. Within 45 minutes, the ship blew its horn but it was so windy none of us could hear it. We knew what had to be done though. The shore team herded our guests back to the landing site and us drivers prepared to shuttle them back to the ship, with waves crashing up to our bows and the type of wind that slices right through you. Goggles on, balaclava up, not a single sliver of skin exposed.
I got my first set of 10 guests in my boat, reversed out from shore and began the journey back to the ship. We were soaked immediately, huge swells, I could barely keep my tiller straight, not to mention maintaining my balance. I saw legitimate fear in the eyes of a few of my guests. It was difficult but I was focused and calm, the only thing I needed to do was get these people back to the ship safely. The most difficult part of a Zodiac ride in poor weather is the gangway approach, where you pull your boat up to the side of the ship, next to a metal structure with stairs. As I approached 3 times, the wind and swells spun my boat around so I was facing in the completely wrong direction. Any way, we finally made it, safely, and I got a big cheer from my guests as they hurried up the gangway and into the warmth of the mud room.
Arnell, one of the able-bodied seaman who mans the gangway grabbed me by the shoulders to give me a warning for my return trip to shore, he said “Lauren, you must go slow into the wind.” I knew this, but I had also never driven in 55 knot winds, gusting up to 65. The drive back to shore, with an empty Zodiac, straight into the wind was fairly terrifying and I knew that I didn’t have the experience for it. I did make it back to shore and swapped out with my Expedition Leader so he could continue shuttling, which was the smartest decision I made this season.
Quite the adventure though. When all the staff were safely back on the ship there were plenty of hugs and high-fives to go around.
This is the Argentinian Base Brown, also known as Almirante Brown in Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. (Google Map) Base Brown is often unmanned but this most recent summer season there were a number of Argentinians living there, always happy to welcome us.
There’s a lovely lady working there, her grandfather had manned the station in his younger years and it had always been a dream of hers to carry on the family legacy.
Almirante Brown is a continental landing, as opposed to an island. Behind the base you’ll find Gentoo Penguins and Skuas. There’s even a leucistic penguin, mostly white with almost no pigment. The view from up top is incredible and on a blue-sky day the reflections are breathtaking. The panorama is the view from the top of the hill. There’s a perfectly carved out curvy luge which makes for a really fun “bum slide.” Here’s one time I filmed my going down with a GoPro. There are calving glaciers on either side, and around the corner to the right there are Blue-Eyed Shag nests.
When I was there just a couple of weeks ago, a hungry Leopard Seal attacked a young Shag who was resting on the water and ripped it to pieces in front of my Zodiac. Here’s a video of that. In the waters of Paradise Bay you’ll find Leopards, Weddell and Crabeater Seals and Minke Whales.
(I’ve decided to start sharing more of the story behind the beautiful places I’ve been visiting. Hope you enjoyed this one.)
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I spent a total of 11 weeks in Antarctica this 2013-2014 summer season as Photographer in Residence and then Assistant Expedition Leader on the M/S Expedition. I’ve just updated my photo site with some of the work I am most proud of. Hope you enjoy.
If you have any questions about our expeditions, or are even interested in joining us on a trip to Antarctica or the Arctic, get in touch. Needless to say, I LOVE talking about it!
If this were just a video of a guy dancing on the ice in Antarctica, I’d love it anyway, for obvious reasons. But this is Union Glacier, a place I’ve been reading a lot about lately but had no idea what it looked like until I stumbled upon this video.
Union Glacier is the launch spot for the majority of South Pole expeditions. Think of it like Everest Base Camp, but for Antarctica. It’s where all of the modern day polar adventurers and explorers hang out.
This is Temujin Doran, a videographer, just days before he and his team started their journey to complete Captain Scott’s iconic 1,795 mile Terra Nova route from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back.