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Destinations Polar Regions Antarctica Weddell Sea

Weddell Sea

Lying to the less-visited east of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Weddell Sea spends much of the year completely frozen over with sea ice. Even in the summer months, the passage of ships is often restricted by the ice-choked waters. It was here in January 1915 that Shackleton’s ship the Endurance became trapped in the ice, forcing the crew to abandon ship. The men escaped to uninhabited Elephant Island before some of them rowed a small boat to South Georgia to get help. One year and seven months after their ship had become trapped, every one of Shackleton’s men were saved. The Endurance was eventually crushed by the icy jaws which it held it so fast.

Today, it is the icy beauty and remoteness of the Weddell Sea which draws visitors to its inhospitable waters. Soaring cliffs of ice take on a bluish hue in sunlight, their flat tops hinting at the vastness of the white continent which lies behind. As sections break off, huge tabular icebergs are born; the Weddell Sea is veritable iceberg ‘factory’ creating ever-changing scenery of jaw-dropping beauty. These gargantuan behemoths glide slowly and silently through the water for years, gradually melting down to a tiny piece of ice before completely becoming part of the ocean that transported them for so long.

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Despite the harsh conditions, the Weddell Sea is rich in marine life. Taking advantage of the summer bounty, emperor penguins come to the area to breed. Snow Hill Island is home to large emperor penguin rookery, its contours providing relative shelter against the raging winds which regularly blow. Adult emperors can be seen swimming in the water and resting on the ice floes. The world’s largest penguin species endeared itself to viewers in the film ‘March of the Penguins’ with its battles against the elements and endless dedication to its precious offspring.

The Weddell Sea also supports large populations of marine mammals including the Weddell seal – named after the same sea captain – James Weddell – whose name was given to the sea. James Weddell sailed here in 1823 and reached 74° south – the first person to do so. Crabeater and leopard seals also inhabit the area as do several species of whale. Minke, humpback and Southern right whales can often be seen ploughing through the waves as they come up to breathe.

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