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Great day at Danger Islands

After spending the night motoring on calm seas, just rolling a bit on the long swell, in the early morning we were already reaching the 
isolated small archipelago of Danger Islands. The sight of countless tabular icebergs all around and the rocky outcrops of the islands under blue skies and sunshine brought a boost of energy and expectation to all of us. The next days, we will try to visit some of the most amazing spots in the area between the Northern Weddell Sea and the South Shetland Islands. And for starters, what could be better than the seldom visited, and usually inaccessible, Danger Islands. Out of several attempts the Bark Europa has done in the past, it has proved impossible to even reach close to the islands. So far, the area always had payed tribute to its reputation of being notoriously difficult to enter, due to the large amount of pack ice and the always considerable number of tabular icebergs around its shallow waters very close to shore. Surprisingly this morning we were welcomed by open waters, good weather and the ever-present tabular icebergs just played a fantastic role of offering a great background for our pictures, without representing a hazard for 
navigation. Danger Islands is a chain of eight islands trending NE to SW, on the Eastern coast of Joinville Island, just at the NW mouth of the vast expense of the Weddell Sea. Their name was given by James Clark Ross on 28 December 1842. He approached one of the biggest islands in the archipelago, actually without noticing it, as they are all surrounded by deep waters that suddenly rise above sea water, in some occasions as dome shaped islets, others as menacing cliffs. Ross got as close as three ships lengths from the so named Darwin Island, sailing amongst bergs and fog, when he reported that “the cliffs of the island, through the fog, appeared so perpendicular as to admit the ship going alongside, and well it was that they were seen in time to avoid running against them, as we had no suspicion of being near land”. He had been sounding every 15 minutes without finding bottom. Very different indeed from today’s conditions with a far reaching visibility of over 30nm. The seemingly desolate islands are worth a closer look that reveals countless penguins inhabiting its slopes. As a matter of fact, nowadays the rookeries covering all the islands are considered the largest Adélie penguin colony of the NE Antarctic peninsula-North of the Weddell Sea, after the head count produced last year, when Danger Islands jumped to the mass media due to this fact. The area has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it supports about 300,000 nests. Other birds that breed in the group include Gentoo penguins, Snowy sheathbills, Giant petrels, Skuas, Wilson storm petrels, Kelp gulls and Antarctic shags, all seen during the day, whether during the landing in the morning or zodiac cruising in the afternoon. Soon after breakfast, our guides were ready for a good scout of the shores of Heroina Island, that together with Darwin and Beagle represent the largest islets of the group, and the one that seems most accessible for a landfall. On its Northwest corner it shows a narrow inlet where after a struggle with packed drift ice, used by numerous snoozing Weddell seals, land could be easily reached for a landing. There is not much free space on land to move around, as every single square meter of the island seems to be occupied either by nesting Adélie penguins lying on their eggs, or their highways to go back and forth from their rookeries to the sea. A good look at the landing area, reveals the possibility for a short walk between the nesting groups, all carefully guided by Sarah, Nilla and Jordi. What a change from being at sea for a week enduring the rigorous Southern Ocean, to find ourselves walking on solid ground and literally surrounded by thousands upon thousands of penguins. After a couple of hours enjoying the incredible spectacle it was time to wrap up the morning and make our way to the landing spot, where we found the zodiacs struggling with the shallow waters on the rapidly falling tide. What was an easy boat ride two hours ago, now became a maze of rocks, little channels and grounded bergs, making for adventurous pick ups and rides back to ship, where we arrived right before lunch time. Sunshine and good weather helped for a bit of ship cruise after our meal. The towering rocks of Comb Island had attracted our attention during the morning. This castle like islet shows a different geological structure than the rest of the archipelago. All of it is made of basaltic rocks, but here they take a horizontal layered disposition, showing accumulation of layers upon layers of lava flows. After that it was time to head towards a smaller one of the Danger group, Platter island. A rugged island covered to the last inch with Adélie penguins, this was not a landing possibility so we launched our two zodiacs and sloopy to explore it and its inhabitants from the water. Not only was the island covered in penguins, the ocean was literally bursting of penguins swimming and jumping in synchronisation around us. A few hundred meters off the coast, we spotted small azure blue icebergs with black dots on them. A quick look in the tele lenses confirmed they were also covered in penguins. Shutters where going off as mad as many of us gave it our very best effort to create the iconic Antarctica image of penguins elegantly diving from the ice into the turquoise water. As waves crashed in along the shoreline, we spotted leopard seals hunting the Adélie penguins as they entered and exited the ocean. One penguin was caught by one of them and we all observed in awe and fascination as nature ran its course and the penguin became leopard seal dinner. Hidden away on a rocky cliff at the other side of the island, we observed several Antarctic cormorants. With beautiful afternoon light and calm seas, Platter Island was a sight not soon to be forgotten. Straight afterwards, Europa started her engines and made her way towards Paulet Island. The fantastic spot choosen for tomorrow’s morning 
activity, home of another incredibly large Adélie penguin colony. Paulet also played an important role on the history of exploration of the 
Weddell Sea, and some remains from the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-04 can still be found there.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Guide



wat een mooie foto Welkom Bark EUROPA met de pinquins.

margriet.  |  21-12-2018 11:24 uur

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