The Austral Ocean

Marine Antarctica through the lens

Feature type Story

Read time 4 min read

Published Sep 09, 2021

Photographer Ángel Pérez Grimaldi

Ángel Pérez Grimaldi
A massive iceberg drifts in front of a distant mountain range in the Antarctic Peninsula under the morning mist.

A massive iceberg drifts in front of a distant mountain range in the Antarctic Peninsula under the morning mist.

These images reveal the unique fauna and landscape of the Antarctic peninsula in locations such as Neko Harbour, Paradise Bay, Port Lockroy, and the Lemaire Channel, as well as the Subantarctic islands of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. The photographs were taken during several voyages to Antarctica and the Subantarctic islands from 2018 to 2020 during the austral summers.

Antarctica remains the wildest place on Earth. Operating in polar regions requires highly attuned risk assessment; there is no marine rescue anywhere nearby, and the nearest hospital is in Ushuaia, Argentina – several thousand miles away. In an emergency, help may take days to arrive. Ferocious katabatic winds can whip up in minutes, sending the temperature into freefall.

Only by feeling we are part of nature do we feel its importance, and become willing to protect it

On land, the environmental situation can go from peaceful contemplation to serious danger in an instant.

I’ve had several close calls with avalanches and ice calving while operating near glaciers; mini-tsunamis can be formed at the beach landing sites by rolling and imploding icebergs, even if the event happens hundreds of meters away.

Data shows that the Antarctic Peninsula is the fastest-warming part of the Southern Hemisphere: the mean annual temperature has risen by about 3°C over the past 50 years. In the 2020-21 season we witnessed a large red algal bloom and minimal ice in many locations, as well as saw the warmest day ever recorded in Antarctica (a balmy 20.75 degrees Celsius on 20th February 2020, at Commandante Ferraz Antarctic Station).

It has never been more important to share our knowledge and our experiences of nature, and to encourage others to learn and connect with it. As the naturalist E. O. Wilson proposed in his 1984 theory of biophilia, we have an inherent urge to connect to wildlife and wild places. Only by feeling we are part of nature do we realise its importance, and become willing to protect it.

King penguins are the second largest species of penguin after the Emperor penguin. They can be up to 100cm tall and weigh as much as 18kg and have been recorded diving to depths of up to 300 metres.

King penguins are the second largest species of penguin after the Emperor penguin. They can be up to 100cm tall and weigh as much as 18kg and have been recorded diving to depths of up to 300 metres.

A female leopard seal, more than 3m in length, rests on the ice during a snowfall. At the beginning of the season, leopard seals are mostly seen this way. As soon as the penguin chicks moult their feathers and start to swim, it's common to see leopard seals hunting penguins in the water near the colonies. The leopard seal is among the top predators in the Antarctic environment; its only predator is the killer whale. A large leopard seal reportedly attacked Thomas Orde-Lees (1877-1958), a member of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917, when the expedition was camping on the sea ice. In 2003, biologist Kirsty Brown of the British Antarctic Survey was killed by a leopard seal while snorkelling, in the first (and only) recorded human fatality from a leopard seal.

A female leopard seal, more than 3m in length, rests on the ice during a snowfall. At the beginning of the season, leopard seals are mostly seen this way. As soon as the penguin chicks moult their feathers and start to swim, it’s common to see leopard seals hunting penguins in the water near the colonies. The leopard seal is among the top predators in the Antarctic environment; its only predator is the killer whale. A large leopard seal reportedly attacked Thomas Orde-Lees (1877-1958), a member of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917, when the expedition was camping on the sea ice. In 2003, biologist Kirsty Brown of the British Antarctic Survey was killed by a leopard seal while snorkelling, in the first (and only) recorded human fatality from a leopard seal.

 

A pod of playful Commerson’s dolphins surf the waves of the Falkland Islands.

A pod of playful Commerson’s dolphins surf the waves of the Falkland Islands.

A pair of king penguins seem curious about their own reflection in one of the lagoons formed by melting glaciers on Salisbury Plain, South Georgia.

A pair of king penguins seem curious about their own reflection in one of the lagoons formed by melting glaciers on Salisbury Plain, South Georgia.

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