South Africa to the Antarctic Pack Ice
30 October to 18 November 2002
A personal account by John Brodie-Good
with photos by Angus Wilson

05 November

Thankfully the wind had dropped off from 55 down to less than 30 mph overnight and the heavier swell in the morning died out during the day. We had however crossed the sub-tropical convergence in the night and the air and sea temperature had dropped as a result. This meant new birds, our first Grey-headed Albatross’s, Blue Petrels and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross’s began to appear. Early afternoon also yielded our first diving petrels and larger numbers of prions, many of which were surely Salvins? The exquisite White-headed Petrels were now almost constant. 10 species of albatross were recorded, many giving the photographers great opportunities as they circled around our ship. A single Northern Royal swelled the overall list, showing its distinctive underwing carpal patchs as it eased ahead of us in the early afternoon. A female Orca was seen in the morning, followed by a pair of Humpback Whales in the afternoon, our first few Sub-Antarctic Fur Seals were noted also. Yesterdays storm had cost us nearly a day of time, we now hoped to arrive at the islands late tomorrow. Expectations were high as we retired for the night, shattered by 20.30.

Generally confined to cold water throughout the southern Ocean, some 7000 pairs of Grey-headed Petrels breed on the Prince Edward Islands. This beautiful medium-sized albatross suffers significant and increasing mortality through long-line fishing. This adult illustrates the distinctive bluish-grey head and neck (solid hood), dark bill with bright yellow-orange culmen and ramicorn. The tip (maxillary unguis) is red. The partial white crescent below and rear to the eye is just visible.

The underwing coverts of immature birds are mostly dark but become paler with age until the adult pattern is achieved. The very dark underwings, broad dusky shawl extending onto the throat and face indicate a fairly young bird.  Although the sides of the bill are black, the upper and lower ridges are clearly yellow.

06 November

The wind had swung around behind us, NE, but as the day wore on it increased to Force 9 again. Most people finally got to grips with Grey-backed Storm Petrel, a few appearing from time to time in the wake. Others also finally caught up with Kerguelen Petrel, most had been distant but finally one crossed the bows, very close. Seabirds behind the ship had been building up during the morning including five lovely Light-mantled Sooty Albatross’s which spent an hour or so around the ship first thing. Up to 20 Wanderer’s were present in the morning, including a few really ‘snowy’ birds with seemingly pure white tails. It seems the Prince Edward Island’s breeders of this species have completely white tails in older males, further confusing great albatross i.d. in the field which is complicated enough.Cape Petrel numbers built  through the day, along with numerous Blue and Soft-plumaged Petrels as the day wore on. At least two Grey Petrels spent some time with us too. The odd Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal were spotted as excitement built at the prospect of seeing land again. A single distant tall blow in the morning denoted the presence of a Fin or Blue Whale but this was the only cetacean sighting today. I had a solitary Macaroni Penguin in the water just after lunch, a few Kings were seen too.

King Penguins, such as this adult, are inquisitive and will pause for a moment to gawk at the ship. The comma-shaped orange auricular patch and pinkish lower mandible stripe indicate an adult.

Marion Island, along with Prince Edward are South Africa’s Sub-Antarctic territories, claimed hastily at the end of the Second World War. A small base was home to a few meteorologists and scientists and the Agulhas is their supply ship, her first visit since the long austral winter. But the weather worsened as the afternoon progressed, we even wondered if we would see the islands. We arrived offshore just after 17.00, a howling gale blowing. We sailed past the base, sounding our horns whilst the onshore staff had lit a red flare to greet us, the staff huddled by a hut. We had a passenger to deliver to them but there was going to be no chance in these conditions, we turned back into the lee of the island to pass the night. As spray whipped off the wind blown waves, thousands of prions could be seen, assembling offshore, waiting for nightfall to return to their burrows. The local giant petrels were in our wake, joined at one point by an Antarctic Fulmar. The island looked wild and beautiful as a small patch of blue sky appeared above us. A distant King Penguin colony could be seen in a valley. The first of the endemic Crozet Shags were seen flying by , telescopes were out to try and secure Lesser Sheathbills onshore, the second endemic. We prayed for better weather in the morning as our time here was so short. During dinner a message on the ship’s PA system asked for all cabin curtains to be closed, to avoid unnecessary seabird mortality during the night. Prions are especially attracted to light and can easily kill themselves by flying into ship’s superstructure and rigging after dark.

Part 01 - (30-31 October)   Pre-Cruise
Part 02 -(01-02 November) Embarkation
Part 03 - (03-04 November) The Roaring Forties
Part 04 - (05-06 November) Marion
Part 05 - (07-08 November) Marion & Prince Edward Island
Part 06 - (09-10 November) Iceberg!!
Part 07 - (11-12 November) Into the pack ice
Part 08 - (13-14 November) Recrossing the Antarctic Convergence
Part 09 - (15-16 November) Petrel Fever
Part 10 - (17-18 November) Landfall

Click here for the Trip List (seabirds and mammals)

Page layout and photos copyright of Angus Wilson© 2002 All rights reserved.
Text copyright of John Brodie-Good© 2002 All rights reserved.
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