Matt & Emmy in Antarctica & Easter Island travel blog

An Emperor Penguin on an ice flow in the Weddell Sea

Walking on sea ice

Emmy and our assistant expedition leader, Lisa Trotter, find a penguin

We awoke this morning in the Weddell Sea, the body of water just east of the Antarctic Peninsula. During the winter, the entire sea is covered with sea ice, but by now in the late spring it is breaking up. The scenery is amazing - it looks like something out of a movie, with ice bergs big and small all the way to the horizon. The Captain of the ship himself navigated us through this maze all day.

As an aside, the ship itself is considered "ice hardened". It is not an ice breaker per se, but it does have the ability to sail through icy waters and to cut through some ice. As we navigated, the ship would avoid the bigger bergs but would not bother doing so for small ice chunks or flows in the 3-10 feet tall range. It was a little weird hearing them hit the hull at first or seeing them scrape by our porthole, but we got used to it.

Our goal was to try to make it to Snow Hill Island, the northernmost point where Emperor Penguins live. We did not make it this far because the ice conditions did not permit it, but we did see a decent number of Emperors on the ice flows we passed. Emperors are the biggest of all penguins and one of the biggest of all birds. These were the penguins in the movie "March of the Penguins." Even had we made it to Snow Hill Island it would be unlikely that we would be able to see many Emperors because at this time in their breeding cycle, almost all would have gone to sea to eat. The handful we did see were quite impressive, even from the deck of the ship.

In the afternoon, without any type of prior announcement, the ship was driven slowly into a piece of sea ice until the entire length of the ship was surrounded by ice. After a preliminary exploration by the staff, the passengers, staff and crew all were allowed to go out on the ice and walk around. The ice flow we were on was probably 12 - 36 inches thick, and it extended for some distance (it is very hard to estimate distances here because there are no trees, houses, people, or other objects which provide context). It was quite fun to walk around on the ice, and we could tell that it was something special because almost all of the staff and the crew of the ship came out for a turn. Emmy said correctly that it felt like recess in school.

As the day ended, we were navigating through the remaining pack ice to exit the Weddell Sea. We had reached about 65 degrees south latitude, which is the furthest we will likely go south due to ice conditions.

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