Antarctic Blog 2013

Penguin.rock

photograph © 2013 Lorena Lagos Pailla and Leticia Barrientos

Day 3: Punta Hannah (Hannah Point) and more penguins than you can shake a stick at (21.2.2013)

This day's samples: B9—C4: Punta Hannah

My third day in Antarctica was my second sampling day. We "slept in" and loaded the zodiacs at 7:30am to go to a penguin colony at Punta Hannah (Hannah Point, -62 39 14, -60 36 37) on Walker Bay on the south central coast of Livingston Island. The point's easiest to reach beaches had loose pack ice and so we had to land on rocks at the mouth of a penguin colony. Punta Hannah was named after a British shipwreck in 1820 of the seal ship Hannah.

Let's get this over with fast:

Penguins Penguins Penguins Penguins
       
Penguins Penguins Penguins Penguins
Penguin galore on Punta Hannah, mostly Gentoo as I recall.

The penguin species we've seen on only the second sampling day are gentoo (Pygoscelis papua), chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarcticus), and a very few King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus).

So if you thought that penguins were cool, check out these animals, really, really big animals. Don't be fooled by the distance--we couldn't get too close. The penguin in the third photo on the right below is about 50 cm tall, so those are 0.75 m round and 3 meters long. There were 25 to 30 in the clatch, pride, flock (whatever); it was hard to count their bodies sandwiched in together.

Punta Hanna Large Seals Large Seals
Elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) on Punta Hannah

 

We collected samples inside the penguin colony (as defined by white streaks and stench everywhere) and the further around the beautiful cove of Punta Hannah. The face of the glacier off in the distance is about 50 meters tall where it meets the water. The air temperature moved close to 10°C during this day.

When we sampled plant-covered areas we chose routes to the samples we needed that minimized our impact (see Day 15). For instance, when we sampled soil under Deschampsia in a lush field on Punta Hannah, we climbed up and around that meadow and came down via low rock outcropping to minimize our disturbance of the Deschampsia meadow.

While this made the path up to the sampling site and then back down about 3 times more difficult, the thorough INACH training (Verónica Vallejos's excellent talk) was ringing in our ears here on our second sampling day and actually throughout our expedition (see Day 15 too). And after the impact of what you see all around you sinks in, it just seems like the natural thing to do, to try to minimize the effects of our presence.

Each sample collection event had a minimum of the following: temperature of soil or water where sample was collected, coordinates of the sampling site taken from an hand-held GPS, sample transferred to the falcon tube via a spatula thoroughly clean in the medium near the sample, and a photograph of the process or site. Written sample descriptions included physical description of the sample itself, location where it was taken, and distance from prominent nearby features, for instance, number of meters from the beach, proximity to penguins, etc.

Again, the weather here was fine with little wind and very warm temperatures for Antarctica in the summer.

Remember that I came here from Punta Arenas, Chile? I forgot to mention that even though the temperature in Punta Arenas was moderate for, well, a moderate latitude in summer, the winds were the strongest I've ever felt. You know that feeling when the wind starts to blow you down the street from behind and you have to lean back? And the stronger the wind the more you lean? Well I leaned back so much that I was starting to be swept clear off of my feet and I was still being blown before the wind. The winds reported that day in Punta Arenas were 76 km/h gusting to 106 km/h. The city is so windy the city has a custom of putting strong ropes strung along the streets in the city center to help shoppers hold on as they negotiate the high winds.

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