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Aim, Focus, Shoot - The HyPyC blog
Antarctica - Danco Island

Danco Island, Antarctica – Return of the Gentoo Penguins

On the 11th of November, our second day in the Antarctic Peninsula, we stopped ad Danco Island. After an amazing first day at Barrientos and Cecilia Islands I didn't think we would be able to top those experiences, but I was proved wrong in a spectacular way! Danco Island was such a special place and I will forever remember the sights I was lucky enough to witness there.

Antarctic Peninsula & Graham Land map

About Danco Island

Danco island is located on the Antarctic Peninsula and is situated within the Errera Channel off the west coast of Graham Land; It is only 2km long and named after a Belgian geologist, Emile Danco. The Island is home to a colony of Gentoo Penguins and has a great vantage point at the top of its mass. Our ship, the MS Expedition moored quite a distance out due to the shallow waters surrounding the Island, and we took a scenic Zodiac ride past the Icebergs (And some other critters) to make our landing.

A Zodiac boat approaches the shore at Danco Island

Witnessing a great spectacle of nature

I knew the landing was to be a special one as we approached Danco Island in our Zodiac boat. The water around us was black in patches, and on closer inspection we could see that the black spots were actually hundreds of Gentoo Penguins swimming in the water. You could see them scouting for places to jump onto land, their little heads kept popping up out of the water to take a peek. It was mesmerizing watching them swim in tight groups through the water, porpoising like Dolphins and circling the shoreline for a chance to land. Penguins really are graceful in the water, the way they move through it with seemingly such little effort is a thing of beauty. In contrast they look so ungainly and clumsy on land, but they can still run at a surprisingly quick pace!

Gentoo Penguins swim in the water, waiting to arrive back on land

Once we landed on shore I immediately went over to where our group was watching the penguins and got my camera with 55-200mm zoom lens ready. Then it began… The Penguins were returning home. You could tell when the Gentoo's were preparing to land; they would suddenly build up speed and head purposefully in a direct line towards the shore, surging in huge numbers towards their goal. One after the next would propel themselves out of the water, go upright in mid-air and land perfectly on their feet in the soft snow. I could not believe how regimented they were; line after line would jump out, like a battalion of soldiers advancing over difficult terrain. I have never seen such a sight in my life; it was just breathtaking; the sheer volume of Penguins, the whole franticness of their landing, and the fact that this was an extremely rare event to see was just fantastic.

Gentoo Penguins on Danco Island Gentoo Penguins on Danco Island Gentoo Penguins on Danco Island

We watched this amazing feat of nature for what seemed like an age; The Gentoo's continued to arrive and the shoreline was soon inundated with a bustling group, all shaking water from their insulated coats, cleaning their fur and chattering to one another. Many of the Penguins were marching steadily up the side of Danco Island to reach higher nesting ground – I found it intriguing how they walked in an orderly line and all followed the same paths, there was literally a Penguin highway on the side of the Island!

The Penguin Highway

Hiking to the top of Danco Island

I took so many photos at this point – I found the Gentoo's such an interesting subject and trying to capture their movements and various different poses was a great deal of fun. After I had my fill (I would have stopped there forever if I could), the expedition staff had marked out a hiking trail that gently wound to the top of Danco Island, therefore I steadily ascended the side through the snow and Penguins. I found the hike quite tiring even though it was a relatively short distance – The sun was out so it was actually warm, and I had my entire set of gear on so I was carrying a lot of extra weight (Thermals, waterproof trousers, Wellingtons, Parka etc). I stopped several times for a breather and to take some shots of the beautiful snow covered landscape I was immersed in.

The Hiking trail on Danco Island Danco Island landscape

The view was quite amazing at the top; you could see 360 degrees around the Island to the various channels and inlets. Jagged icebergs were floating in the water, there was a slight downfall of snow, and Penguins were dotted at different nesting spots. At one point a layer of mist started to fall which created an eerie effect – It looked as If the surrounding mountains were disappearing. I spent some time talking to Steven Skinner who was on board our ship and being transported to the British base Port Lockroy – He had dreamed of working in Antarctica for years and was finally getting his wish, it was so interesting to learn about how he got the job and what he had to do to apply. All in all my experience at Danco Island was one of the best, I could not have asked for a better landing.

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