Having rested up for a little while, it is now time to hit Danco Island in the southern end of the Ererra Channel. As with every landing we've been able to make, I'm astounded by the physical beauty of this passage within the Antarctic Peninsula. There is a reason for this area's popularity as a landing site—penguins, scenery and whales—all ready to be swallowed up by the photographers aboard the Sea Explorer.
As the zodiacs are lowered and we proceed into the channel, I try to imagine how Adrien de Gerlache felt when he and his shipmates first explored this territory during the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-1899. Filled with small icebergs due to the constant current, I'm certain that he experienced similar emotions to mine as we dodge the ice in this sound.
This waterway is located east of Anvers Island, sheltered by the eastern border of the Gerlache Strait. Flanked by the Arclowski Peninsula of the Danco Coast on one side, this navigable route runs south and then doglegs around Ronge Island.
Our staff member operates the motor of our zodiac as we meander through the icebergs that are omnipresent in this channel. Many of them are small, causing us to zigzag in almost haphazard fashion. Others, however, are extremely large, truly a magnificent sight to behold.
While dodging the icebergs, we come across a group of sea lions sleeping on the surface of one of these small islands of ice. Our zodiac approaches and encircles the small haven, as I take multiple photographs, hoping that one of the animals will pop his head up. After numerous shots, I am able to capture the one second in which a sea lions lifts his head before going back to sleep.
Two natural groups of these aquatic mammals exist in this part of the world. True seals are earless, such as our somnolent friend aboard the iceberg. Fur seals, on the other hand, have small flaps over their ears. I've seen many of them already on South Georgia Island. Five other species can be found living in Antarctic waters including Ross, Weddell, crab eater, leopard and elephant seals. I've already seen a leopard seal take down a penguin off the coast of Elephant Island. Elephant seals are enormous, weighing up to 8,800 lbs. I made their acquaintance on Salisbury Plain.
It is now time to make a landing on Danco Island, a mile-long stretch within the Ererra Channel. We disembark from our zodiac on a wide, flat, cobbled beach that has a prominent snow-free slope in the background. This elevates to the island's ice-covered summit that dominates the top and south side of the island.
While the scenery is truly a spectacle of nature on this landmass named after Belgian geologist Emile Danco, my eyes become more narrowly focused on the hundreds of gentoo penguins lining the shore. Many of these are swimming in the water, searching for optimal sites to jump onto land. I become mesmerized as I watch them move in tight groups, porpoising like dolphins, scouting for landing sites. It's humorous that these creatures appear so graceful in the water, but become ungainly after making a landing. Despite their clumsiness, they can still run at a surprisingly quick pace!
At this point on our trip, I see a pattern emerging. The majority of my photographs are initially taken with a wide-angle lens, as I try to capture the enormity of the landscape before me. I then switch to my long lens, as fantastic close ups of the wildlife captivate me. After hundreds of photos, my hands become cold as I can no longer keep my outer layer of gloves off to operate my camera. It's time to go, but I will not be forgetting my adventure on Danco Island in the Errera Channel anytime soon.