Lots of whales and penguins

When the annual Ross Sea ice melts this area comes alive with lots of wildlife, especially at the edge of the ice shelf (which doesn’t melt).  Adelie and Emperor penguins come out and can be seen just about anywhere… even walking right down the center of McMurdo Station!  In addition to the penguins, the melting ice attracts more seals and both Minke and Orca (Killer) whales.  They are all looking for food and since they are mammals, they need air to breathe.  The ice edge has a lot of wildlife activity and Orcas will come to hunt Minkes, seals, and sometimes a penguin.  The Orcas live together in Pods that span many generations.  They are amazing animals and will start communicating with their young when they are still in the mother’s womb.  The scientists that study them say that their communication and ability to transfer knowledge between generations actually rivals humans!  When you watch them hunt in packs and look for seals sitting on ice floes you will believe it.  They are highly intelligent.

The Minke whales are plankton eaters and are also pretty curious.  They will poke their heads out of the water and look at you if you are on the ice edge.  The penguins and seals are sometimes curious too and have been known to just walk, or waddle, up to you.  It seems they all like to sleep a lot!

A Minke whale cruising the ice edge with some sleepy seals in the background.

A Minke whale cruising the ice edge with some sleepy seals in the background.

A pod of Minke whales getting ready to dive under the ice near the pressure ridges.  The pressure ridges are caused by the ice shelf pressing against a land mass and causing the ice to buckle.  There are almost always seals nearby due to the cracks that are formed.

A pod of Minke whales getting ready to dive under the ice near the pressure ridges. The pressure ridges are caused by the ice shelf pressing against a land mass and causing the ice to buckle. There are almost always seals nearby due to the cracks that are formed.

Some sleepy Adelie penguins basking in the sun at Hut Point, McMurdo Station.  They come ashore to escape the seals and whales that might want to eat them.  These ones are just getting ready to molt.

Some sleepy Adelie penguins basking in the sun at Hut Point, McMurdo Station. They come ashore to escape the seals and whales that might want to eat them. These ones are just getting ready to molt.

Cute Adelie penguins sleeping on Hut Point in McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Cute Adelie penguins sleeping on Hut Point in McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Emperor penguins just starting to molt.  During the molting process they will replace their feathers and won't enter the water because they are won't be waterproof and would get cold.  Molting can take up to a month.  They get nice and fat before the molt because they won't be able to eat or catch fish until their new coat of feathers is ready for swimming.

Emperor penguins just starting to molt. During the molting process they will replace their feathers and won’t enter the water because they are won’t be waterproof and would get cold. Molting can take up to a month. They get nice and fat before the molt because they won’t be able to eat or catch fish until their new coat of feathers is ready for swimming.

Emperor penguins that are molting.  You can see they are starting to lose feathers on their backs.  Emperor penguins are very large compared to Adelies and can measure up to about 3 feet tall when standing up straight.  They don't have any land predators so they just hang out and watch you take pictures of them.  Sometimes they will approach you when they are curious.

Emperor penguins that are molting. You can see they are starting to lose feathers on their backs. Emperor penguins are very large compared to Adelies and can measure up to about 3 feet tall when standing up straight. They don’t have any land predators so they just hang out and watch you take pictures of them. Sometimes they will approach you when they are curious.

An Emperor penguin hanging out on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

An Emperor penguin hanging out on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

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Cape Royds – Penguin Rookery and Shackelton’s Hut

A while back I had the opportunity to visit Cape Royds.  This is where Shackleton’s Hut is located.  It was built for the 1907-1909 British Antarctic Expedition led by Shackleton who sailed down on the Nimrod.  Robert Falcon Scott lost a little respect for Shackleton during their Discovery Expedition partly because Shackleton became very ill with scurvy.  Shackleton had asked Scott if he could use the Discovery Hut for his expedition and Scott said no as he was planning on using it for another expedition of his own.  This forced Shackleton to build his own hut at Cape Royds.  During this expedition, Shackleton and his men were the first to make it to the South Magnetic Pole and they were a mere 97 miles from making it to the South Geographic Pole!  They were also the first to climb Mt. Erebus, the Southernmost active volcano in the world.  Erebus rises right out of the Ross Sea to an altitude of 12,448 feet and is covered in dangerous glaciers and deep crevasses.  In addition to Shackleton’s hut, there is an Adelie Penguin rookery at this spot.  During the time I visited, the Adelies had young chicks.  Cape Royds has a lot of volcanic features such as a black sand beach, and ventifacts which are rocks that have been sculpted into cool shapes by thousands of years of wind.

A selfie of me at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  This pic was taken overlooking the Adelie Penguin rookery.  There were up to 4000 penguins here nesting and hatching their young chicks.  In the background is the Ross Sea with the ice breaking up.  The penguins like to hang out on the ice floes and are amazing swimmers.  They are like little torpedos shooting through the water and leaping into the air and landing back on the ice.

A selfie of me at Cape Royds, Antarctica. This pic was taken overlooking the Adelie Penguin rookery. There were up to 4000 penguins here nesting and hatching their young chicks. In the background is the Ross Sea with the ice breaking up. The penguins like to hang out on the ice floes and are amazing swimmers. They are like little torpedos shooting through the water and leaping into the air and landing back on the ice.

This was my ride out to Cape Evans... A Bell 212 helicopter!!  It was so fun!!!  It makes me want to be a pilot.  : )

This was my ride out to Cape Evans… A Bell 212 helicopter!! It was so fun!!! It makes me want to be a pilot. : )

Me inside Shackleton's Cape Royds hut pretending to warm myself over the stove.  The great men that occupied this hut were truly amazing and to experience and feel the history of this place cannot be put into words.  I have read of many of the hardships and have experienced Antarctica personally, but to actually do it they way they did, without modern technology and communications, is mind boggling.  These men were hearty souls who experienced great hardships for little or no glory.  Any of the stories of these men, such as "Shackleton's Forgotten Men" or "Endurance" or the story of RF Scott are well worth the read.

Me inside Shackleton’s Cape Royds hut pretending to warm myself over the stove. The great men that occupied this hut were truly amazing and to experience and feel the history of this place cannot be put into words. I have read of many of the hardships and have experienced Antarctica personally, but to actually do it they way they did, without modern technology and communications, is mind boggling. These men were hearty souls who experienced great hardships for little or no glory. Any of the stories of these men, such as “Shackleton’s Forgotten Men” or “Endurance” or the story of RF Scott are well worth the read.

The inside of Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  This was Shackleton's base during his British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909.  Of the three huts I have been to (Scott's Discovery, Scott's Cape Evans, and Shackleton's Cape Royds) this one was the nicest by far.  It' is also the least visited.  I was very lucky and fortunate to be a hut guide and have access to these amazing historical places.  I enjoyed sharing them with others.  This was also the hut where they found Shackleton's lost whiskey which has been duplicated by a modern distiller.  I had some of his whiskey poured atop a chunk of iceberg that was broken off a glacier.  The ice was pure and actually hissed in the glass due to the ice being compressed over thousands of years.

The inside of Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica. This was Shackleton’s base during his British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909. Of the three huts I have been to (Scott’s Discovery, Scott’s Cape Evans, and Shackleton’s Cape Royds) this one was the nicest by far. It’ is also the least visited. I was very lucky and fortunate to be a hut guide and have access to these amazing historical places. I enjoyed sharing them with others. This was also the hut where they found Shackleton’s lost whiskey which has been duplicated by a modern distiller. I had some of his whiskey poured atop a chunk of iceberg that was broken off a glacier. The ice was pure and actually hissed in the glass due to the ice being compressed over thousands of years.

An Adelie penguin walking towards me at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  There is an Adelie penguin rookery at this spot, and they lay their eggs here.  During the time I was there, the Adelies had young chicks.  They are so cute and curious.

An Adelie penguin walking towards me at Cape Royds, Antarctica. There is an Adelie penguin rookery at this spot, and they lay their eggs here. During the time I was there, the Adelies had young chicks. They are so cute and curious.

I took this picture from a beautiful black sand beach at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  I love the little Adelie penguins and especially this one because of it's movements and the contrast between its black color and the surrounding ice.

I took this picture from a beautiful black sand beach at Cape Royds, Antarctica. I love the little Adelie penguins and especially this one because of it’s movements and the contrast between its black color and the surrounding ice.

The Barne glacier flowing down to the Ross Sea from the side of Mt. Erebus.  The picture is deceiving but believe it or not, this glacier is huge!  The face of it is 100-200 ft high and is massive!  This picture was taken out the window of the helicopter I rode in to Cape Royds.

The Barne glacier flowing down to the Ross Sea from the side of Mt. Erebus. The picture is deceiving but believe it or not, this glacier is huge! The face of it is 100-200 ft high and is massive! This picture was taken out the window of the helicopter I rode in to Cape Royds.

The Ross Sea ice breaking up with the Royal Society range in the background.  The Royal Society mountains are part of the Trans-Antarctic mountain range.  I have painted them more than a few times this season.  I never get sick of looking at them especially as the light and shadows change.  The best was during the mornings of "Winfly" where the alpenglow made them pink and purple.

The Ross Sea ice breaking up with the Royal Society range in the background. The Royal Society mountains are part of the Trans-Antarctic mountain range. I have painted them more than a few times this season. I never get sick of looking at them especially as the light and shadows change. The best was during the mornings of “Winfly” where the alpenglow made them pink and purple.