Over the last three weeks Zach and I have spent almost all of our time at sea level, chasing whales in our Zodiac. So we were excited to get a very different perspective today, by climbing up to the peak of one of the islands in our study area. The whales have thinned out over the last couple of days, so we thought we’d take a look for them from a different vantage point.
Hermit Island was named after a surveyor who stayed alone on the island in January 1957. It is only about a mile long and 100 meters high, but provided enough of a vantage for us to be able to survey our entire study area. As we pulled up to the island, we were greeted by a juvenile Antarctic fur seal and a couple of southern elephant seals, lounging on a cobble beach.
We anchored our Zodiac and climbed up the granite outcroppings, passing Antarctic skuas and kelp gulls, which nest on the island. We clambered over mosses and lichens (yes, some plants do grow in the Antarctic) and reached the peak.
At the top we found several giant petrels on nests. Unlike the skuas and kelp gulls, the petrels were nonplussed by our presence and quickly went back to napping or squabbling with family members.
Today was one of the very few clear days we have had since we arrived and we were completely mesmerized by the view. To our east we could see the mountains that form the spine of the Peninsula and we watched as one of the other Zodiacs drove by, dwarfed by an enormous iceberg.
In fact, our attention was so drawn to the scenery that we completely missed two humpback whales that swam in to the study area. Our colleagues below called us on the VHF and we scrambled down the steep slope to go out and find them. It’s hard to admit to being disappointed by a whale sighting, but I think we would have both enjoyed another hour or two at the top of Hermit Island.