As the Kapitan Khlebnikov icebreaker made its way through the thick sea ice in the Weddell Sea on Day 4, we stopped at various points for reconnaissance missions with the helicopters onboard. Our captain knew that we were close to Snow Hill Island, but he sent one of the helicopters up into the sky to determine our distance from the Emperor penguin colony living on the sea ice near the island. At one point we were 20 miles away, a distance too far for transporting all the passengers by helicopter to the island the next day. The ship began moving through the ice again, but the passage became more and more difficult. A second mission was deployed to examine the sea ice surrounding Snow Hill Island to find an easier path through the thick ice.
While we were waiting for the helicopter to return from this second mission, I spotted my first Emperor penguin!!!! I was so excited and although it was far away, I was able to capture a shot of it swimming in an opening in the sea ice with my telephoto lens.
It soon disappeared under the sea ice and I resumed waiting for the helicopter to return. A few more passengers joined the few of us on deck, and the wait was worth it! About 15 minutes later, a raft of Emperor penguins appeared from under the sea ice and began swimming across the opening.
I zoomed in on a select few with my lens and caught them surfacing and leaping out of the water! They submerged again, continuing their journey for food under the thick sea ice. Every 10-15 minutes, we were rewarded with 1 – 3 penguins swimming in the water but we never saw that large of a group again in the sea.
When the reconnaissance helicopter returned with a tentative route for the icebreaker, the captain started up the engines to begin breaking our way closer to the colony. The crew spent the rest of the day preparing us for the following day–our first day on Snow Hill Island!
You can view these images individually and more not posted here in my portfolio located here.