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Seno Almirantazgo and its inner fjords

Seno Almirantazgo and its inner fjords 

Seno Almirantazgo extends ESE more than 40 miles from the S end of Canal Whiteside and has three long inlets branching off the S side. These cut deeply into the heart of Cordillera Darwin and after running between steep cliffs and vertical walls, they end at the foot of tidewater glaciers. Not all the small branches of the main sound have been fully surveyed, but they are deep enough for good approaches to the shoreline and cruising around. 

Captain Parker King, during his expedition here in March 1826 named it Admiralty Sound, paying homage to the British Admiralty. 

Nowadays it is home to the only known Elephant seal breeding colony in Chilean waters, a Black-browed albatross nesting area, a Leopard seal small local population, and some of the most impressive bays and glaciers in the southernmost part of Patagonia. Good reasons why it is worth spending the time to sail all the long way here and have the chance to explore the surroundings. 

Last night, with a light breeze blowing into the fjord, the Europa set canvas and with the help of her engines too, made her way to the very end on the main sound. There we woke up this morning to a clear and sunny day. 

This area belongs to Karukinka Park, managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, and to visit it is mandatory to land with local guides/rangers. That is why by the early morning, three of them are brought on board, and after a short talk about their doings here and the efforts put into nature conservation, we all go ashore at the so-called Jackson Bay. A place that for many years has been home to the only known breeding Elephant seals in Chile. Before they were found here, there used to be another group a bit further out, at Ainsworth Bay, still in Seno Almirantazgo, but now it appears that all have moved deeper into the main fjord. 

Shallow waters lead to an ample valley where we found several groups of them. A pile of youngsters here, a heap of adults there, they are now moulting after finishing their breeding season. The many that have finished changing their fur (as they do every year) already left the area for the sea again. They will come back the next spring. 

Scientific studies have been conducted on them since more than 20 years ago, tagging, taking fur and blood samples and even placing some GPS tracking devices on some. The results of this research are giving some light on where these Elephant seals came from (some of them still from ancient populations in the area, that it was thought that were wiped out by the sealers of the late XIX and early XX century, some of them from Peninsula Valdes in Argentinean Patagonia and the rest from Falkland Islands) and where they go when they leave, amazingly some of them even to the Drake Passage and South Shetland Islands. 

The surroundings are again spectacular. High cliffs and snowy peaks tower over our heads, a large waterfall flows down close to the shoreline. In the background along the valley, a group of Guanacos observe us during the whole duration of the zodiac cruise. 

Dark Bellied Cinclodes and Tyrants forage over the long beach left behind by the low tide, while flocks of Upland geese fly around. 

The next activity once we were all on board was to ship cruise close to the coast of a nearby island. Perched on its cliffs and steep-sided slopes, Black-browed albatrosses nest. It is a bit late in the year to see the peak of the nesting time, but still, some grown-up chicks hang around their nests. All the other ones were already gone. The adults until next season, the youngsters for about 3 or 4 years, when they’ll reach sexual maturity and they’ll eventually come back.  

The colony was found in 2003 and since then it has been monitored. It actually represents the only one that stands deep into the fjords instead of the exposed islands and coasts closer to the open sea. Apparently, this group prefers the gorgeous landscape and the winds that blow along the fjord from the high mountains that surround it. 

The local park rangers were then brought ashore, and for us, it was time to make our way to the close by inlet, Parry Bay, with the idea of ship cruising there this afternoon. 

The area is roughly charted until the fjord is divided into two arms, then both of them are not charted at all. 

As we steer deeper into the fjord, bergy bits float around, and over the ones drifting away a Leopard seal was seen as we passed by. Time for turning around to try to get a closer look. 

Lucky to see it, here a small population lives, actually considered the northernmost breeding group of them, as it is usually a species that can be found further south, in colder Antarctic waters. 

Leaving the animal behind still a few miles to go to the amazing SW arm of Parry, nested amongst rocky cliffs and high mountains, its waters filled with brash ice. 

Towards the end of the fjord, up to five glaciers debouch their ice into its waters. The scenery, as always in these areas, is stunning. The glaciers stand tall, slowly but steadily, they carve their way through the land, shaping the deep valleys, lakes, and fjords. 

The glaciers of Patagonia are icy sentinels, slowly carving their way through the landscape, reminding us of the relentless passage of time. 

Bruce Chatwin. “In Patagonia” 1977  

Above us the majestic Mount Darwin. This alpine peak gets its name from an incident that happened during the Beagle expedition in the 1830’s. Quoting the notations of Fitzroy:  

Our boats were hauled up out of the water upon the sandy point, and we were sitting around a fire about two hundred yards from them, when a thundering crash shook us - down came the whole front of the icy cliff - and the sea surged up in a vast heap of foam. Reverberating echoes sounded in every direction, from the lofty mountains which hemmed us in; but our whole attention was immediately called to great rolling waves which came in so rapidly that there was scarcely time for the most active of our party to run and seize the boats before they were tossed along the beach like empty calabashes.  

By the exertions of those who grappled them or seized the ropes, they were hauled up again out of reach of a second and third roller; and indeed we had good reason to rejoice that they were just saved in time; for had not Mr. Darwin and two or three of the men run to them instantly, they would have been swept away irrevocably.  

Fitzroy report. Excerpt from The route of Darwin through the Cape Horn Archipelago. 

After this adventure, Fitzroy named the highest peak in sight and looming over their heads as Mount Darwin, which climbs up to over 2400m above the sea level and is covered by great glaciers that in some areas tumble down its steep sides to the waters of the Beagle Channel and Seno Almirantazgo. 

In front of one of Parry’s glaciers, Europa sits for a while until dinner is served. Then she turns around and starts heading towards Punta Arenas, 120nm away. 

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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