ANTARCTICA Day 6: Almirante Brown Base & the Cuverville Island Penguins
Our first landing on our third day on the Antarctic Peninsula was to the small, picture perfect Argentinian base and research station; Almirante Brown. Before our landing at the base itself we went for a sightseeing zodiac cruise to see the unique icebergs, glaciers, rocks and creatures in the area adjacent to Almirante. I was in total awe as we floated past these massive cathedrals of bright blue ice. The icebergs have the most interesting shapes and textures, each of them unique from how they had broken away from the glacier, and been shaped by the elements and immersion in the ocean water.
ALMIRANTE BROWN STATION
An Argentinian base was established in this location in 1951, but the current buildings were rebuilt after 1984 when the station’s doctor decided to set fire to the base upon hearing he was to stay another winter (this crazy plan worked and the residents were eventually rescued) . Today the base can house a maximum of 18 people, although on this day that we visited there were fewer than that. The scientists and residents of Almirante were very welcoming and extremely eager to go home as their ship to bring them back to Argentina was already a day late (let’s hope they didn’t get stuck for the winter and do a repeat of 1984).
At Almirante Brown we climbed the steep, deep snowy hillside to see the view of the station and bay. This was our first landing on the actual Antarctic continent (previous landings were to islands and not technically the continent itself). Several people celebrated this as the visit to their 7th and final continent, but for me this was my 6th since I have not yet been to Australia.
When we returned to the ship the crew had prepared a BBQ lunch on deck. We ate hot dogs and burgers with the most spectacular view, after which I enjoyed a soak in the top deck hot tub while we cruised to our next destination, Cuverville Island. As we made our way to Cuverville, the clouds at last started to part and the blue sky showed for the first time since we had been in Antarctica.
As our zodiac approached the shore of Cuverville Island I anxiously squealed like a kid outside of Disneyland knowing I was moments away from being surrounded by THOUSANDS of penguins. The rocky beaches of Cuverville Island are a breeding colony to 6,500 nesting pairs of gentoo penguins (penguin couples, so that’s 13,000 penguins!!!). In addition to being home to a startling number of my favorite animal, the landscape surrounding Cuverville Island is absolutely stunning–black rocky mountain peaks glazed with glaciers and snow. Cuverville Island was an absolute dream come true!
We arrived to shore and were briefed again that we should try our best to give the penguins 5 meters of space (but we all knew this was going to be impossible, because penguins do what they want!). Penguins were welcome to come up to us if they so pleased, and that they did! I sat in one place on the shore, watching penguins laying on their bellies doing nothing, penguins standing in one place doing nothing, penguins splashing in the water, penguins sliding down the snow on their bellies, chicks chasing their parents and one another, parents regurgitating food for their chicks, penguins fighting off aggressive skuas, and penguins in every cycle of life (from just hatched, to being killed by a skua 😭, to dead 😖, to very dead 😢, to skeletons 😞. It was the whole penguin circle of life happening all around me. When walking around needed to be very careful where I stepped, because every few steps there would be a penguin laying.
Alex and I set up GoPros around the beach and captured video and timelapses of the Penguins doing their thing. We caught video of one curious penguin investigating the GoPro.