The further south you go, the easier it is to find uncharted islands and shores still untouched by human feet. Yesterday we took two Zodiacs and landed on Charcot island, making me one of about fifteen people to ever set foot there, and one of maybe six since the early 1900s. I suppose that’s no more a claim to fame than “Eater of One of the Twenty Largest Burritos on Record” or something else along those lines, but nevertheless I feel pretty cool about it.
We also took a large plush shark named Big-Big to Charcot Island. “Shark-oh” puns abound!
Two years ago our group discovered a very small colony of Adelie penguins on Charcot, and this colony was the reason for our return. “Whoop-dee-doo, more penguins in Antarctica,” you say. But listen, the discovery is exciting for two reasons.
First: the beach at Charcot is basically a sheer cliff, making it pretty difficult terrain for stubby penguin legs. It’s impressive that they manage to hop out of the water and onto this island at all, let alone hike 100 feet up the cliff every day to reach the nook they call home.
Second: this is a lot further south than other Adelie colonies. Usually they’re more of a “sub-polar” species.
The mountaineering feats of these little guys are totally awesome, but the fact that Adelie penguins are so far south is disturbing. The life cycle of Adelies is linked to sea ice, but with winters that get warmer each year, there are fewer and fewer places along the Antarctic Peninsula that even get solid sea ice.
Navigating through icebergs and broken-up pack ice was spectacular, and getting stuck in a snowstorm on the island felt a little more like the Real Antarctic Experience I’d always imagined. But keep in mind that this is the southernmost point on our research trip, and we’ve just now reached a latitude that actually deserves to be called “The Frozen South.” It’s scary how quickly the poles are receding.