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Orne Harbour


64° 39′ S


62° 34′ W


Orne Harbour is a sheltered bay located just north of the Errera Channel, on the Graham Land coast, on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Its northwestern facing mouth opens into the Gerlache Strait, with views across to Anvers and Brabant Islands. With a depth of up to 100 meters, the two inner coves of Orne Harbour provide good zodiac cruising, spectacular glacial fronts and a continental landing site. The most prominent feature is a 286 meter (938 foot) rock summit known as Spigot Peak at the southern entrance to the harbor.

Orne Harbour was discovered in 1898 by Adrien de Gerlache from Belgium while surveying the coastline on his ship, Belgica. The members of this scientific expedition included several who were to become notable explorers of the heroic age, including Roald Amundsen, Dr. Frederick Cook and Henryk Arctowski. Beset by ice, the Belgica and her crew became the first to over-winter below the Antarctic Circle and discovered many new species including a wingless fly named Belgica antarcticus. The name Orne Harbour is attributed to whalers from the early 20th century, who also named Spigot Peak for its resemblance to a cask or ‘spigot’ plug used to close the hole in a barrel of liquid.

Orne Harbour is home to a chinstrap penguin colony (Pygoscelis antarctica). Over 700 pairs nest here, either along the shoreline on small rock outcrops or on a wide saddle at the base of Spigot Peak, 75 meters above the water. Visitors can hike up to the colony from the landing site or view them from a zodiac at the water’s edge. Their highways to and from the water are clearly visible both down to Orne Harbour and on the southern side to Selvick Cove, a shingle beach along the Errera Channel. Other nesting birds include Antarctic shags (Phaacrocorax brandsfieldensis), south polar Skuas (Stercorarius maccormicki), kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus) and snowy sheathbills (Paloma antarctica). Marine mammals sometimes seen here include southern elephant (Mirounga leonina), Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii), crabeater (Lobodon carcinophagus) and Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) as well as orca (Orcinus orca), humpback (Megaptera novaengliae) and minke whales (Balaenoptera bonaerensis).

The underlying bedrock of this region is pinkish granite but it is overlaid with dark metavolcanic material and metamorphosed volcanic rocks. These are prominent as large, black, angular boulders at the landing site and also make up the volcanic plug known as Spigot Peak. These rocks have many cracks which are filled in with black basalt intrusions as well as a yellowish-green mineral called epidote.

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