Petermann Island Petermann Island

Petermann Island

65° 11' 26 S 64° 08'11W

A short distance from the Lemaire Channel, Petermann island is a frequent destination for tourists as it offers a landing, historical importance and a significant number of Penguins. Under the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) agreement, it specifies that only 100 people can land at any one location in the Antarctic. Our vessel was 121 tourists, and each boat of 8 needs a driver, plus a few additional expedition members.

Gentoo colony on the rocks
Gentoo colony on the rocks

The original plan was to have a scientific survey on a zodiac, and one or two zodiacs out on exploration but far too many penguins prevented this at the landing site for us to be able to fit a hundred people. We were in the Antarctic towards the end of the moulting season, so adults and chicks were on land, not quite ready to take to the ocean. To address this, half of us did a Zodiac Exploration and half landing with us swapping over.

My group, Gerlach, was last called and so we explored the islands waters in a zodiac first. We saw some fantastic scenery, though the weather was somewhat grey and cloudy as well as quite a few penguin colonies on the rocks around us. We also saw, in the distance, some crabeater seals, but they were silhouettes against the bright snow backgrounds.

Crabeater Seals
Crabeater Seals

Port Circumcision was named for the Feast of the Circumcision by the crew of the Pourquoi Pas when they wintered on Petermann Island. We saw, on the rock wall the landing the carving "PP", done by the crew 112 years before.

Groussac Refuge
Groussac Refuge

On the southern tip of Port Circumcision sits Groussac Refuge, an Argentine Naval refuge, recently repainted in their traditional orange and past that building, and on the higher rocks stands a cross commemorating three members of the British Antarctic Survey. They died in a 1982 attempt to cross the sea ice from Petermann to Faraday Station.

Memorial for the lives lost in 1982
Memorial for the lives lost in 1982

I stepped onto Antarctic soil for the first time. Before I turned forty, every continent on earth had felt the touch of my feet.

The guides had placed a series of flags from the landing zone to the base of the penguin colony, and guests must stay close to them to keep the penguins calm. If the birds wish to approach us they can and do, Gentoo are curious birds, but tourists are not to disturb them.

Gentoo Penguin on guano
Gentoo Penguin on guano

Skua circled the islands looking for unprotected chicks to snatch away.

Skua in flight
Skua in flight

One landing and attempting to feast on the metal pole of a flag.

Skua on Petermann Island
Skua on Petermann Island

There were so many penguins and older chicks, most in various stages of moulting.

Gentoo Chick
Gentoo Chick


Gentoo Penguins are surprisingly vocal, crying out at the sky and each other. Occasionally comical as they slide across smooth stone or ice, they're also graceful, even on land.

Screaming Gentoo Penguins
Screaming Gentoo Penguins

One penguin singled me out and came within half a meter of me before walking past. I was able to capture the penguins face in great detail.

Closeup of Gentoo
Closeup of Gentoo
Extreme Closeup of Gentoo
Extreme Closeup of Gentoo

The most memorable encounter for our group, something which divided our perspectives was the sight of a single young Gentoo chick, bedraggled and bloody who was being stalked by a skua. His protector was a young penguin who had been corralled by the birds into the chicks proximity. If the Skua had been willing to back off, the chick would most likely have been left alone by the adult penguin to be easy prey.

Skua hunts a Gentoo chick
Skua hunts a Gentoo chick

The Skau was unwilling to give that much space maybe miss a meal. When we left, all guides agreed he was on borrowed time. Many of the group had wished to scare the birds off to give the chick a chance. Others recognised the birds' desire to eat.

Injured Gentoo Chick and Unwilling Protector
Injured Gentoo Chick and Unwilling Protector