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Peter­mann Island

The Lemai­re Chan­nel ist amongst the most famous bits of Ant­arc­ti­ca. Thousands of tou­rists crui­se every sou­thern sum­mer through this unre­al water­way, a jaw­drop­ping expe­ri­ence. The Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la to the left and Booth Island to the right. Moun­tains almost a thousand metres high and some qui­te impres­siv gla­ciers to eit­her side. The Bel­gi­an explo­rer Adri­en de Ger­la­che, tog­e­ther with a young Roald Amund­sen, was amongst the first who descri­bed the Lemai­re Chan­nel as a place that could make a visi­tor shi­ver in awe. That was in ear­ly 1898.

The actu­al pas­sa­ge is a few hund­red metres nar­row and from a distance one may won­der if the­re is actual­ly a pas­sa­ge at all, and inde­ed, it can be blo­cked by drif­ting ice. The­re was a lot of ice, but far from being too much to keep us from pas­sing through. Cra­bea­ter and Leo­pard seals were watching as Orte­li­us was win­ding her way through bet­ween the ber­gy bits and ice­bergs.

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Most ships pass twice through the Lemai­re Chan­nel, once on the way south and then back again on the return jour­ney. We don’t turn around, we rather keep going fur­ther south. Peter­mann Island, a com­mon fur­thest south, is for us just a step­ping stone on the way to the south polar cir­cle. We were a bit worried that the small rocky lan­ding bay might be blo­cked by brash ice, but were deligh­ted to find the coast clear. I was to have the plea­sant task of guar­ding the sou­thern end of the island for a while, which was visi­ted by nobo­dy. Under­stand­a­b­ly so, as the main attrac­tion, a colo­ny of Ade­lie pen­gu­ins, a new spe­ci­es for us on this trip, is on the nort­hern end, a few hund­red metres away. So I spent an enjoya­ble while sit­ting on a rock, a litt­le island in a sea of deep snow, with bree­ding Gen­too pen­gu­ins as my nea­rest neigh­bours, which are busy ste­aling stones from each others nests and fee­ding their off­spring. They are bree­ding around a woo­den cross that com­me­mo­ra­tes 3 Bri­tish sci­en­tists who got lost in sea ice in the vicini­ty of Peter­mann Island a while ago. I don’t think any­bo­dy knows if they got lost on an ice floe that drifted away or if they bro­ke through thin ice. Their bodies were never found. Even the pen­gu­ins seem to bend their heads in front of the cross.

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Gen­too pen­gu­ins are near their sou­thern dis­tri­bu­ti­on limit here on Peter­mann Island. This part of the coast of the Ant­arc­tic Pen­in­su­la, bet­ween 64 and 65 degrees south, is some­ti­mes cal­led the bana­na coast of Ant­arc­ti­ca, as it is sup­po­sed­ly mild. Not­hing is real­ly mild here, it is a wild land­s­cape of bar­ren, most­ly steep rocks and a lot of snow and ice, but on a fair­wea­ther day like today, it feels inde­ed warm.

Mild or not, we lea­ve this coast behind us and set cour­se for col­der parts of Ant­arc­ti­ca.

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last modification: 2015-01-16 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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