Jan 25: Avian and Adelaide Islands!

After a few weeks of living on a boat it was nice to set foot on dry land again when we visited Adelaide Island, a rocky island located just off the edge of the Antarctic continent.

Post by William and Mary undergraduate Caitlin Smoot

After a few weeks of living on a boat it was nice to set foot on dry land again when we visited Adelaide Island, a rocky island located just off the edge of the Antarctic continent.

Penguins on Avian Island.
Penguins on Avian Island.

Before our day trip to Adelaide Island we dropped some birders from our group off at nearby Avian Island. Avian Island is home to thousands of penguins. The birders spend a week living on the island and studying the penguin colony. As you can imagine, living on a rocky island filled with penguins can be pretty rustic. The birders subsist on dehydrated food and collect diet samples from penguins. How do you collect a diet sample from a penguin? You can’t just ask it to share its food with you. The birders temporarily capture a penguin, fill its stomach with warm water to make it throw up, and then collect the vomit in a bucket. The birders bring the stomach contents back to the lab to study later. It sounds pretty gross, but it allows the birders to get a better idea of what exactly the penguins are eating.

After a few weeks of living on a boat it was nice to set foot on dry land again when we visited Adelaide Island, a rocky island located just off the edge of the Antarctic continent.
VIMS researchers approach Adelaide Island aboard a Zodiac.

After we dropped the birders off at Avian Island, the rest of the group made our way to nearby Adelaide Island. We took Zodiac boats from the Gould to the island. Zodiacs are small inflatable boats that hold around ten people each. The short trip to the island was beautiful. From the Zodiacs we could see penguins swimming in the water and then shooting out of the water to rest on icebergs. We also saw huge elephant seals, which can weigh thousands of pounds, resting on the rocky shores. From a distance the large elephant seals look like sausage links!

The abandoned Chilean science base on Adelaide Island.
The abandoned Chilean science base on Adelaide Island.

Once we arrived at Adelaide Island we spent the afternoon exploring. There is an abandoned Chilean science base on the island that is kind of spooky! When the base was abandoned the Chileans left many supplies and other items like food, books, and pictures behind. There was even an abandoned pool table.

Most people hiked around the island to stretch their legs after living on the boat. The island offers some great views of snowy mountains and deep blue water studded by bright white icebergs. Several skuas also live on the island. Skuas are large brownish grey birds that feed on penguin chicks. They can be pretty territorial; they will dive bomb you if you get too close to their nests. We were careful to keep our distance!

Despite the amazing wildlife, great views, and spooky abandoned base, my favorite part of the trip to Adelaide Island was the silence. I didn’t realize how noisy life on the ship was until I was sitting on the rocks at Adelaide Island listening to the sound of the water lapping at the shore. It was a welcome break from the exciting, if sometimes noisy, life aboard the Gould.

Author: David Malmquist

David Malmquist is the Director of Communications at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.