The next day the weather did cause problems. Wind speeds over 40 knots aren’t ideal for helicopter operations and with an outside temperature of -5ºC, the wind-chill wouldn’t allow us to be outside for long. So no flights happened. The captain, however, did use this time to move the ship even closer to the colony. During the reconnaissance flight we found quite a bit of open water south of our position and with the wind blowing the ice away, the captain was willing to sail our ship through the opening ice towards the real edge of the fast sea ice. Again, we saw several small groups of Emperor Penguins, sometimes accompanied by the much smaller Adelies. At the end of the day, we were only 7nm away from the colony. Now, if only the weather would cooperate…

Out on the sea ice

The next day the ‘miracle’ happened! The wind had dropped to below 20 knots and we had clear blue skies around us. We would finally get to fly towards the Snow Hill Emperor Penguin colony!! As I was in charge of mustering the people on the ship, I had to wait until the last flight before I could board myself. After a 5 minute flight over the sea ice, we landed behind a large iceberg frozen into the sea ice. This way we wouldn’t disturb the colony with our helicopter activities. When we got out of the helicopter it did really look like standing on another planet. Everything was white and blue around us. The ice was so thick that it was a strange thought we were actually standing on a frozen sea with maybe 100m of water underneath the ice.

From our landing site, small groups of Emperor Penguins could be seen commuting between open water and the colony. Time for us to follow them and have a look at the colony.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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