The Weddell Sea
The Weddell Sea is a remote and wild region, lying to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula. Together, the Antarctic Peninsula & Weddell Sea make up the most diverse and productive Antarctic marine ecosystem. It was here that Shackleton's ship Endurance was trapped and crushed by the ice in 1915. Further back in Geological time, it is believed that this is the place where Gondwanaland began to break up to form the continents of the Earth we know today and is rich in fossils.
This stunningly beautiful area remains locked in ice throughout the cold Antarctic Winter. The sea ice retreats in summer leaving behind magnificent tabular icebergs, many stretching for several miles.
The Weddell Sea boasts a rich marine ecosystem,. Here vast quantities of krill in the sea supports the thriving colonies of penguins who lay their eggs and raise their young. Such species include adelie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins.
Emperor penguins, the largest and most impressive of the species are often high on the wish list. Although a visit to the Weddell Sea is by no means a guarantee of a sighting, one departure supported by helicopters, can bring you closer to Snow Hill Emperor colony than any other and greatly enhance the chance of a sighting.
Aqua-Firma offer two types of expedition voyage into the Weddell Sea;
Weddell Sea exploration with Helicopter Support
This is a unique trip which uses the combination of both a Lloyds 1a rated ice-strengthened vessel to pick through the sea ice and several onboard helicopters to transfer passengers within a safe distance of the 4000 strong Emperor colony at Snow Hill. This is not an easy task given the remote and inhospitable conditions of the Weddell Sea, as Shackelton himself would testify. The chances of achieving this objective has in the past been less than 50% but besides the Semi Circumnavigation Ross Sea voyages it still remains the only voyage which has a chance of observing the species.
Should conditions block you from reaching the colony, individual stray juvenile Emperor penguins are still hoped for and colonies of Adelie Chinstrap and Gentoo may also be appreciated. Encounters with Weddell seals, crabeater seals, humpback whales, southern right whales, minke whales and hourglass dolphins are always possible.
Combined Weddell Sea & Antarctic Peninsula Voyages
Although not supported by helicopters, these departures combine an exploration of the Weddell Sea with that of the beautiful Antarctic Peninsula. The Antarctic Peninsula is scenically the most dramatic region and provides the greatest diversity of wildlife. It has a beautiful and rugged coastline formed of mountains which are connected to the South American Andes. Peaks rise as high as 3,000 metres from the sea.
Marine life is no less bountiful here than the Weddell Sea and on previous voyages guests have enjoyed the company if more than 200 whales around the ship at one time. Seals can be found in large numbers on the Peninsula, of which the largest seal is the Leopard Seal. This grows up to 3.2 metres in length and after the Orca, ranks as top predator on the continent.
Combination voyages also often offer the opportunity to opt for adventure activities: kayaking, camping, snorkelling or scuba diving. Onboard Photography workshops are also perfect for learning how to improve your skills and making the best of you camera in such stunning and photogenic surroundings.
Contact our Polar Team to discuss voyage options
Please note the itineraries below are provided to give you a flavour of the voyage. The ship's route will be decided by the captain and may vary from the above in accordance with ice, weather and other conditions.
Please click on the links below for a detailed day-by-day itinerary for two typical voyage departures:
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.
Day 2 - 3: Crossing the Drake Passage
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 blasting up sea spray. 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.
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 Adélie penguins on the ice floes, 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.
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.
Day 9 - 10: Return across the Drake Passage
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: Disembark Ushuaia
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.
Day 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.
Embark the in the afternoon and meet your expedition and lecture staff. After you have settled into your cabins you will sail along the famous Beagle Channel and the scenic Mackinlay Pass.
Day 2 - 3: Crossing the Drake Passage
Named after the renowned explorer, Sir Francis Drake, who sailed these waters in 1578, the Drake Passage also marks the Antarctic Convergence, a biological barrier where cold polar water sinks beneath the warmer northern waters. This creates a great upwelling of nutrients, which sustains the biodiversity of this region. The Drake Passage also marks the northern limit of many Antarctic seabirds.
As you sail across the passage, lecturers will be out with you on deck to help with the identification of an amazing variety of seabirds, including many albatrosses, which follow in our wake. The open bridge policy allows you to join the officers on the bridge and learn about navigation, watch for whales, and enjoy the view. A full program of lectures will be offered as well.
The first sightings of icebergs and snow-capped mountains indicate that you have reached the South Shetland Islands, a group of twenty islands and islets first sighted in February 1819 by Capt. William Smith of the brig Williams. With favorable conditions in the Drake Passage the lecturers and naturalists will accompany you ashore as you experience your first encounter with the penguins and seals on Day 3.
Day 4 - 6: Exploring the Weddell Sea
This is where huge tabular icebergs roam. In some years, the Erebus & Terror Gulf and Weddell Sea are chock-a-block full with ice, making for exciting ice navigation. Get up early and go out on deck. It may be 3:30h in the morning, but the sunrises will be unlike anything you´ve ever seen. Huge tabular bergs break from the Larsen, Ronne, and Filchner ice shelves and combine with one-year-old and multi-year sea ice to produce a floating, undulating panorama of rugged ice scenery. All-white Snow Petrels are likely to be coursing over the floes, often joined by Pintado Petrels.
The usual passage to the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula traverses the Antarctic Sound, which is 30 miles (48 km) long and 7-12 miles (11-19 km) wide and runs northwest-to-southeast. Hope Bay and the Argentine Station Esperanza, are located on the western side of the Sound. Brown Bluff, a promontory on the Tabarin Peninsula, is located south of Hope Bay. Both of them might be possible landing sites. The Weddell Sea represents the center of the Peninsula´s Adélie Penguin population. Devil Island, Paulet Island and the already mentioned sites, might give us ample proof of this. The numbers of penguins are breathtaking. Sometimes juvenile Emperor Penguins have been sighted, riding ice floes but are by no means regular in the area.
This region also teems with vibrant exploration history. The most bizarre of these tales involves the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-03 under the command of geologist Otto Nordenskjöld. Four visitor sites have links to this expedition: Hope Bay, Paulet Island, Snow Hill Island, and Cape Well-Met on Vega Island. Expedition staff will be pleased to share their exciting story with you. Nordenskjöld´s expedition was the first to overwinter in the Peninsula. His ship the Antarctic, under the command of the famous Norwegian whaling captain Carl Anton Larsen, was trapped in the ice and sank, but the men survived on different locations and even managed to carry out significant scientific research in the area.
Day 7 - 8: Antarctic Peninsula & the South Shetland Islands
The Antarctic Peninsula´s remarkable history will also provide you with a type of excitement often only associated with the early explorers. You will have plenty of time to explore its amazing scenery, a pristine wilderness of snow, ice, mountains and waterways and a wide variety of wildlife. Apart from Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins and other seabirds you are likely to encounter Weddell, crabeater and leopard seals as well as Minke whales and orcas at close range.
You can hope to navigate some of the most beautiful waterways: the Gerlache Strait, Errera Channel and Neumayer Channel. Possible landing sites may include: Paradise Bay, which is perhaps the most aptly named place in the world with its impressive glacial fronts and mountains, Cuverville Island, home of the biggest Gentoo Penguin colony in the Peninsula surrounded by glaciers and castellated icebergs, and the British Museum and Post office at Port Lockroy.
Further exploration will lead you to the South Shetland Islands. The volcanic island group is a haven for wildlife. Vast penguin rookeries and seals hauling out on the shorelines make every day spent here unforgettable. Sailing through the narrow passage into the flooded caldera of Deception Island is truly amazing, so is visiting the crescent shaped island Half Moon, home to Chinstrap Penguins in breathtaking surroundings.
There might also be a chance to visit the enigmatic Elephant Island. Sir Ernest Shackleton fans will need no introduction to this historic windswept island. In 1916 Shackleton was forced to leave 22 of his men stranded on these shores, while he and five others embarked on an unbelievable last-ditch rescue attempt. What followed is one of the greatest rescue stories of all time. Every passenger will return with a greater knowledge of this gripping tale of adventure in a truly remarkable part of the world.
Day 9 - 10: Northbound across the Drake Passage
You leave Antarctica and head north across the Drake Passage. Join your lecturers and naturalists on deck as they search for seabirds and whales and enjoy some final lectures. Take the chance to relax and reflect on the fascinating adventures of the past days on the way back to Ushuaia.
Day 11 - Disembark in Ushuaia
You will arrive at the port of Ushuaia in the early morning and disembark after breakfast.
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14 - 24 Nov 2021
from € 9,580
Weddell Sea: In search of the Emperor with Helicopter Support
Ushuaia - Ushuaia (11 Days)
Activities: Helicopter excursions, Zodiac cruises
Lloyds Class 1A ice-strengthened vessel
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29 Jan - 08 Feb 2022
from US$ 7,790
Ushuaia-Ushuaia (11 days)
Smallest Expedition ship exploring Weddell Sea
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13 - 26 Mar 2022
from € 6,890
Ushuaia - Puerto Madryn (14 Days)
Itinerary includes Weddell Sea, Elephant Island & Falkland Islands. Contact us for a detailed itinerary
Voyage as indicated in draft itinerary.
All meals, snacks, coffee and tea.
All shore excursions and zodiac activities.
Program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff.
All miscellaneous services taxes and port charges throughout the programme.
Comprehensive pre-departure material.
Carbon offset for your voyage and flights if booked through us.
Pre and post land arrangements.
Transfers to and from the vessel.
Cancellation and personal insurance.
Passports and visas.
Arrival and departure tax.
Items of a personal nature (alcohol, laundry etc).
Single occupancy price is 1.7 times the per person cabin price. There is no single supplement if you are prepared to share a cabin with another passenger of the same gender.