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Weddell Sea Emperor Penguin Voyage

Once-in-a-lifetime experience visiting Emperor penguin rookeries by helicopter

Emperor penguins with chicks

Locations in this tour typically include: Ushuaia • Drake Passage • Weddell Sea • Brown Bluff • Snow Hill Island (Emperor Penguin rookeries) • Devil Island, Vega Island or Hope Bay • Half Moon Island • Deception Island (Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay) • Drake Passage • Ushuaia;

Your unique chance to be part of a true expedition voyage! The Emperor Penguin rookery (ca. 4,000 breeding pairs) is situated south of Snow Hill Island. Although we will probably not be able to reach that far south through the ice (less than 50 % chance based on our voyages in the last three seasons), the idea is mainly to situate ourselves in or between the Antarctic Sound and James Clark Ross Island, close to the ice-edge and observe the emperor penguins on their way to the open water. We will use our helicopters in our attempts to search for individual emperor penguins, to make scenic flights and to make helicopter landings in places otherwise inaccessible so early in the season.

All itineraries are for guidance only. Programs may vary depending on local ice, weather, and wildlife conditions. The on-board expedition leader will determine the final itinerary. Flexibility is paramount for expedition cruises. Average cruising speed of m/v Ortelius is 10.5 knots. If ice conditions are favorable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack ice, you have the chance for ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island – roughly 45 minutes walking distance from the emperor penguin rookery. If successful, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Even so, remember that nature writes the final itinerary out here: Attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during the voyages of 2012 – 16 did not always succeed. Only in 2013 and 2015 did conditions allow for ice landings by helicopter and a completed visit to the rookery.)

Route map

Weddell Sea Emperor Penguin Route

The above route/s is/are representative for this cruise and may not exactly match the itinerary of every departure available. Please check the PDF itinerary download/s for the exact route/s.

Key facts

  • Weddell Sea Emperor Penguin Voyage
  • Antarctic expedition cruise with specialist expedition leaders
  • 2018-2019 departure:
    18 November 2018 (OTL23)
  • Nights: 10
  • View Ortelius 2018-2019 prices*
  • All departures:
  • Departs: Ushuaia
  • Tour leader: Oceanwide Expeditions
  • Deposit: 20%
  • * Prices quoted are for cruise only and do not include flights or hotel accommodation. We will arrange your flights and any accommodation but as fares and rates are subject to change, prices are quoted on request.
  • Weddell Sea Emperor Penguin 2018-2019 detailed itinerary

The ship

M/v Ortelius was built in Gdynia, Poland in 1989, was originally named Marina Svetaeva, and served as a special purpose vessel for the Russian Academy of Science. The vessel has the highest ice-class notation (UL1 equivalent to 1A) and is therefore very suitable to navigate in solid one-year sea ice and loose multi-year pack ice. Read more about Ortelius

M/v Ortelius

Your itinerary

Please note that the itinerary below is representative and may not be that of all cruises listed under the same title, since they can vary slightly in their route, duration, destinations or activities and can be different from year to year. Note also that during the cruise the programme may vary depending on local ice and weather conditions, the availability of landing sites and opportunities to see wildlife. Please check the PDF itinerary downloads above for the precise itinerary and route of your chosen season and departure date.

Day 1: Ushuaia
Your voyage begins where the world drops off: Ushuaia, Argentina, reputed to be the southernmost city on the planet, located on the far southern tip of South America. Starting in the afternoon, you embark from this small resort town on Tierra del Fuego – nicknamed “The End of the World” – and sail the scenic, mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the rest of the evening.

Days 2 & 3: At sea
Over the next two days on the Drake Passage, you catch a taste of life from the perspective of the polar explorers who first braved these regions: cool salt breezes, rolling seas, maybe even a fin whale lunge feeding in the water below. After passing the Antarctic Convergence – Antarctica's natural boundary, formed when north-flowing cold waters collide with warmer subantarctic seas – you are in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. Not only does the marine life change, the avian life changes too: A variety of albatrosses and petrels show up, along with Cape pigeons and southern fulmars. Then, near the South Shetlands Islands, the first icebergs flash into sight.

Days 4 & 7:
A typical itinerary in the Weddell Sea could be as follows. This is a sample only, the final itinerary will be determined by the Expedition Leader on board.

You may sail into the Weddell Sea via the Antarctic Sound. Here huge tabular icebergs herald your arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. During this part of the cruise, the search is on for Emperor Penguins. Using both the vessel and helicopters, there's a good chance you'll find them. You might also enjoy scenic flights and – if conditions allow – helicopter landings in locations otherwise out of reach this time of year. Helicopter flights are a true trip changer, and may include: Antarctic Sound – The western side of this area is only rarely seen from the air, though the landscape is truly worth the flight: Layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers and icebergs and pack-ice extend as far as the eye can see. There are often individual emperor penguins and Ad. elows, glaciers of attefloes, as well as kelp gulls, skuas, and various breeds of petrel. Jagged mountain peaks stab through the snow, and enormous walls of ice lie shattered on the slopes below. Duse Bay – A soaring helicopter flight may deposit you on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking the bay. There is still a lot of snow and ice, but much of the walk on the Antarctic is over frost-shattered rock covered with lichen of all shapes and colors. Seymour Island – Here's where the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901 – 4 wintered under harrowing circumstances. Sedimentary rock, fossils, and great views define this location. If conditions allow for deeper ventures into the Weddell Sea, Zodiac trips may include: Devil Island – Home to a large colony of Adélie penguins, this island offers a magnificent view for hikers willing to foot it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes forms a waterfall dropping from the cliffs close to Cape Well-met. Brown Bluff – Maybe the most scenic location in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent: sheer canyon walls, fallen boulders, beautiful volcanic creations capped with ice. A large Adélie penguin rookery lives here, with gentoo penguins and nesting snow petrels also to be found. Gourdin Island – Chinstrap, gentoo, and Adélie Penguins like this place, yet another option for your continuing Antarctic adventure. Esperanza Base – This Argentine research station may be another landing site.

Day 8:
In the morning, you sail to Deception Island for the last landing of the voyage – at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay. Conditions on the Drake Passage determine the exact time of departure./p>

Days 9 & 10:
Your return voyage is far from lonely. While crossing the Drake, you're again greeted by the vast array of seabirds remembered from the passage south. But they seem a little more familiar to you now, and you to them.

Day 11:
Every adventure, no matter how grand, must eventually come to an end. It's now time to disembark in Ushuaia, but with memories that will accompany you wherever your next adventure lies.

Days 5 – 6: Alternate program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack ice (less than 50 % probability)
Helicopters provide a great advantage in reaching the emperor penguin colony, but nature rules the itinerary. If conditions are favorable, you spend the first two days at the penguin rookery. The helicopter operation takes a full day, and the flight duration approximately 15 minutes. Each helicopter can accommodate 4 – 6 passengers per flight. The landing site is carefully chosen, making sure the emperor penguins are not disturbed. Upon arrival, you can continue on foot. After a walk of about 45 minutes, you encounter the emperor penguins, one of the Antarctic's prime wildlife attractions. Keep in mind that you are in the world's most remote area: There are no guarantees. Conditions may change rapidly, which can have a profound impact on helicopter operations. Please understand and respect this. Safety is the greatest concern, and no compromises can be made.

Disclaimer: This itinerary is dependent on sea and ice conditions. The final itinerary will be decided by the ship's captain and your Expedition Leader to maximize opportunities.