We are currently at 71 degrees south latitude and heading toward the Ross Sea. Our progress has been thwarted by unusually thick pack ice forcing us 240 miles out of our way. There was only one thin strip of open water which we call the back door that allowed us into the pack ice. Once inside we've spent the last two days pushing our way through. Fortunately, the Orion has an ice class hull that allows us to get through the ice albeit at a very slow speed.
Although the pack ice is hampering our progress towards the Ross Sea, we've had many great sightings of marine mammals and seabirds that make this inhospitable place home. We've seen many Crabeater seals resting on ice floes. They barely lift their heads as we pass by.
Today we were fortunate enough to see a Ross Seal, a rare sight and even more difficult to photograph.
The whales have been some what elusive but today we did get a glimpse of a Minke Whale. Once we entered the pack ice, Snow and Antarctic Petrels have become our constant companions as the fly around the Orion.
The sea was like glass this morning and Marc was able to catch a Southern Giant Petrel's reflection in the mirror-like surface of the water.
We've also been lucky to see a few individual Emperor penguins resting on ice floes. The first was an immature bird without the yellow coloration seen on the adults. Today we saw an adult Emperor penguin sharing an ice floe with two much smaller Adelie penguins.
Both Emperor and Adelie penguins breed on the Antarctic continent, the Emperors in the winter and the Adelies during the summer. All the Adelies we've been seeing are adults as can be seen by their black chins. Immature birds have white chins.
We're about 20 miles from the front door into the Ross Sea. We should know by midnight if the door is still open. Unfortunately, we've used up so many days getting through the pack ice, we'll have very little time in the Ross Sea area (presuming we can get through the front door). Right now we're still hoping that we can get to Shackelton's and Scott's huts. These huts were used in the early 1900's by Shackleton and Scott as they made their bid for the South Pole. I feel like we are doing an enactment in a sense. We're not racing to the pole but we are racing to Shackelton's and Scott's huts before we run out of time and have to head back to New Zealand. We're not sure how all this will play out. The next 12 hours will determine if we'll win the race.
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc