Antarctica, Day 6: Brown Station

March 8, 2022 • 9:30 am

Yesterday we visited the Argentine research base, Brown Station, or, formally, Estación Científica Almirante Brown. It’s named after William Brown, the “father of the Argentine Navy,” a man born in Ireland, emigrated to the U.S., and was persuaded to be a cabin boy on a ship after his parents died in Pennsylvania of yellow fever. He was later press-ganged onto a British ship, wandered around a bit, and to make a long story short, made his way to Argentina, fought the Spanish, and cobbled together a navy when he was about fifty. He is now a national hero in Argentina, and here’s a late daguerrotype of him:

The station’s location, on the Antarctic mainland (the Peninsula):

It lies in “Paradise Harbor“, a peaceful cover. The station is at the base of a large mountain.

It’s about 70 years old, is regularly occupied during the Antarctic summer (winter in the U.S.), but was closed this winter because of Covid. Some facts from Wikipedia:

Brown Station dates to 6 April 1951, when Argentina established the Almirante Brown Naval Detachment at Paradise Harbor.

The Argentine Antarctic Institute took over the station in 1964–65, creating one of the most complete biology laboratories on the Antarctic Peninsula. It included a main house of 292 m2 (3,140 sq ft); two folding 30,000 l (6,600 imp gal; 7,900 US gal) fuel tanks; and an additional building exclusive for scientific research, equipped with three labs, photography workshop, emergency radio station, office and library.[3] It was called Almirante Brown Research Station and inaugurated on 17 February 1965.

Brown Station’s original facilities were burned down by the station’s doctor on 12 April 1984 after he was ordered to stay for the winter. Station personnel were rescued by the ship USS Hero and taken to United States’s Palmer Station.

Argentina rebuilt the base but it was demoted to summer-only status.

Here are some photos taken in the morning on the way to the base. The views were fantastic.

A panorama. I have to stop taking these; they never come out right

It was breathtaking on the way down:

From my cabin:

I especially love it when you’re on the water, there are no waves, and the scenery becomes monochromatic and eerie.

Also, when the water is still you can see mountains reflected in it (As always, click on photos to enlarge. The ship’s internet is allowing me to upload larger photos this year.)

And the station by the water’s edge at the base of a large mountain. We had sporadic sun, and the day was lovely. I’d click on this picture because it gives a good view of the station and the mountain.

A closer view of the base, which was shuttered. We could walk around it, though, and interact with the numerous juvenile gentoo penguins. We’re supposed to stay 5 meters away from them, but that was sometimes impossible.

From the station:

And, like most Antarctic bases, it’s infested with penguins (gentoos, as usual). I suppose the buildings provide shelter and good nest sites, and of course are also situated on the water with good landing facilities, allowing penguins easy access to and from their fishing grounds.

Every penguin I saw was a molting chick, and they were all standing around waiting for their waterproof feathers to grow in so they could go into the water. I suppose their parents had abandoned them by now as I saw no fully-feathered adults.

The babies are a mess, and molt in different ways. Some, like these, are simply raggedy. Notice all the shed juvenile feathers on the ground:

. . . while others shed their baby feathers more neatly, starting from the front. This makes it look as though they are wearing a fur coat.

Different stages of molting. Not exactly the handsomest period of their lives.

Shed down from the chicks:

This one has a great “fur coat” appearance:

And this one is messier:

Below: a snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus), the only land bird native to Antarctica. From Wikipedia:

The snowy sheathbill does not have webbed feet. It finds its food on land. It is an omnivore, a scavenger, and a kleptoparasite and will eat nearly anything. It steals regurgitated krill and fish from penguins when feeding their chicks and will eat their eggs and chicks if given the opportunity. Sheathbills also eat carrion, animal feces, and, where available, human waste. It has been known to eat tapeworms that have been living in a chinstrap penguin’s intestine.

Yuk! They seem to have been eating penguin poop, too, at least judging from the color of their beaks. You can see the non-webbed feet here.

An especially lovely “fur coat” chick. It even has a scarf of down!

A closeup:

This one has nearly all its adult plumage except for a stray down feather on its face:

Another one nearly done with molting. After it’s been in the water a few times, and scuttled on its belly, that beautiful white breast gets soiled.

A juvenile who looks tired of having its picture taken:

See? This is the typical soiled gentoo belly:

The MS Roald Amundsen in Paradise Harbor, with penguins looking on.

Now for the second biggest tourist attraction here. As Wikipedia notes,

Thanks to its location on the Antarctica continent along the beautiful Paradise Harbor and to its relatively mild weather, Brown Station is a popular excursion destination for tourist expedition ships visiting Antarctica. In addition to visiting gentoo penguins, tourists may climb to a viewpoint 84 m (276 ft) above the station. Rather than walking down the steep slope, many visitors use the human bobsled course. All those visitors sledding downhill have created a ditch a few feet deep that makes for excellent sledding.

And so it was. How could I note climb that slope and go bobsledding on my butt? Here are the passengers climbing the hill, which is steep in parts.  You can see one coming down in the deep course.

Takeoff! I had a ton of fun going down this chute. The trick is to not stop, but use your body and feet to steer you, keeping your legs elevated and your body as straight as possible. You go quite fast, and there are some bumps that get you airborne. It’s best to look ahead and see where the next curve is.

One tourist took his camera and made a video of his whole descent, but I didn’t want to risk ruining a camera nor spoil my personal enjoyment instead of just recording it.

The station from above:

And green algae in the snow among the penguin feathers. I don’t know the species but was told it could be a variety of Chlamydomonas. Yes, there are plants in Antarctica, but only two species of native flowering plants, both on the northwest side of the peninsula.

More molties:

Another real mess:

This is what it’s like inside the Zodiac boat. Here we’re on the way back to the ship. The drivers are very skillful and have to undergo a lot of training to use these things. Getting us to the base through the floating ice was quite difficult, and it’s a skill to moor these things back on the ship. (They’re stored inside. during the voyage and lowered to the sea with a crane.) I think 12 is the maximum number of passengers that can fit in one of these.

As you see, we had to wear masks in the Zodiac. Once we land, we can take them off.

Back aboard: a view of the station with a line of passengers snaking uphill for their turn on the Butt Bobsledding Course:

And a zommed-in view of passengers and gentoos. I photographed these while enjoying a rare free cocktail that the ship dispensed to the passengers after reboarding. It was a Bloody Mary.

A weak drink in the warm lounge and bar, but hey—it’s free! As a crew member i could not drink on board, but now I can as I’m officially on the “passenger” manifest. I usually limit myself to one beer at dinner, though I could have as many as I want.

I ate abstemiously today to make up for several days of gluttony. For breakfast I had oatmeal, coffee, and a coissant, I deliberately skipped lunch, and for dinner I had a beer and three chicken quesadillas (two are shown here). Tomorrow I will at least have two full meals, and of course a milkshake!


18 thoughts on “Antarctica, Day 6: Brown Station

  1. This is like one of those ancient captain’s logs but in the 21st century. And I think I’m learning new things compared to last time.

  2. I wonder if penguin poop taste like chicken. And who wants to find out. Love those penguins

    1. Probably more like chicken poop that’s been fed lots of fish. No, I don’t really know that, just an educated guess.

      I’m also guessing that that ‘Neko Harbor’ has nothing to do with Japanese cats… 🤔

  3. As hard as it might be, I hope social distancing can be maintained between penguins and people… just in case the birds can catch COVID.

  4. Too bad there’s no way to catch all that down. Think of all the down comforters we could make.

  5. I appreciate the panorama pictures because they give a sense of the vastness of the landscape :). I rarely comment, but follow avidly! Thanks for taking us along on your adventures.

  6. Thanks for your WEIT journal here, it’s so wonderful. The human bobsledding…I just have to make this trip.

Leave a Reply