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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.

If ice-conditions are favorable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack-ice, we will reschedule our voyage and offer ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island (as carried out successfully in 2013) at approx. 45 minutes walking distance from the emperor penguin Rookery. If we succeed, this will be a fascinating and a once-in-a lifetime experience. However, we made attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during our voyages in 2012 - 15. We only succeeded in 2013 and 2015; therefore the chances to reach Snow Hill Island are indeed around 50 %. Weather and ice conditions dictate the success of this adventure.

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
  • 2017-2018 departure:
    15 November 2017 (OTL22)
  • Nights: 10
  • View Ortelius 2017-2018 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 2017-2018 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
In the afternoon, we embark in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world located at the Beagle Channel and sail through this scenic waterway for the rest of the evening.

Days 2 & 3: At sea
During these two days we will sail across the Drake Passage. When we cross the Antarctic Convergence, we arrive in the circum-Antarctic up welling zone. In this area we may meet Wandering Albatrosses, Grey Headed Albatrosses, Black-browed Albatrosses, Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, Cape Pigeons, Southern Fulmars, Wilson's Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels and Antarctic Petrels.

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.

We will sail into the Weddell Sea and if the Antarctic Sound is accessible and the ice does not prevent us to sail further, we might see the huge tabular icebergs that announce our arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

During these days we use the helicopters in our attempts to find individual Emperor Penguins. During our previous voyages we were always able to locate emperors. We will also offer scenic flights and – if the conditions allow us – helicopter landings on tabular ice-bergs and locations otherwise inaccessible so early in the season.

Possible landing sites is for example Brown Bluff, probably the most scenic spot in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent. With steep canyon walls and tumbling boulders, an ice-cap looming above, beautiful volcanic creations and the scene is complete with thousands of adelie penguins nesting on the slopes, and a few gentoos mixed in for fun.

Helicopter flights are a great contribution to the voyage, for example on the west side of the Antarctic Sound, an area usually only rarely seen from the air. The scenery is stunning with landscapes of layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers tumbling into the sea and ice-bergs and pack-ice as far as the eye can see. We can observe individual emperor penguins and adelie Penguins on the ice floes; cape, snow and giant Petrels fly high in the sky while kelp gulls, skuas and wilson's storm petrels scavenge down below us. The landscape is dominated by Jagged mountains pierced through the ice-caps and walls of ice dropped onto the slopes below.

A beautiful helicopter flight over huge blue ice bergs and fast ice can also be made close to View Point in Duse Bay. We land on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking the bay. There will be still a lot of snow and ice but much of the intended walk on the Antarctic continent will be over a beautiful frost-shattered rock, almost entirely covered with the most fascinating lichen of all shapes and colors.

If the ice-situation allows us to go further into the Weddell Sea area, we will visit Devil Island and Vega Island with a large colony of Adélie Penguins and a magnificent view for those hikers who can make it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes provides spectacular waterfall from the cliffs close to point "Well-Met". Further south, we may also visit Seymour Island, where many fossils can be found.

On our way north through the Antarctic Sound we might pay a visit to the Argentinean station Esperanza on the Antarctic Continent. We will still look out for emperor penguins on the ice-floes. In the afternoon we may visit Gourdin Island, with three penguin species; Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie.

Day 8:
In the morning we plan to visit Half Moon Island where we can see Chinstrap- and Gentoo penguins, various other bird-species, Southern Elephant seals and Weddell seals.

Early in the afternoon we will sail to Deception Island where we have the last landing of our voyage at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay.

Days 9 & 10:
In the Drake Passage we have again a chance of seeing many seabirds and to take advantage of the knowledge of our lecture team.

Day 11:
We arrive in the morning in Ushuaia and disembark.

Days 5 – 6: Alternative program if the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multiyear pack-ice (less than 50 % chance)
The use of helicopters has a great advantage and can support us in our goal to reach the Emperor penguin colony, but the itinerary is ruled by the forces of nature, ice and weather conditions. If the conditions are favourable, we intend to spend the first two days in the Emperor penguin rookery. The helicopter operation will take a full day and the flight duration takes approximately 15 minutes. The helicopter can accommodate 6 passengers per helicopter flight. The landing point of the helicopters will be carefully chosen and we will make sure that the Emperors penguins are not disturbed or stressed by helicopter noise. Therefore, after arrival, the passengers continue their expedition on foot. After a walk of approx. 45 minutes, passengers will experience an amazing rendezvous with the magnificent Emperor penguins. Keep in mind that we are in the world's most remote area and there are no guarantees, including a specific amount of helicopter time. Conditions may change rapidly, having its impact on the helicopter operation and passengers should understand and accept this. Safety is our 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.