Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Seals, Geology & History

In the morning we landed at Astrolabe Island. This small island, was discovered by the French expedition, 1837-40, under Capt. Jules Dumont d'Urville, and named by him for his chief expedition ship, the Astrolabe. In the summer it is home to over 4000 breeding pairs of Chinstrap penguins but also very convenient haul-out for various seals. Today the Weddell seal took over the place. We counted 14 of those creatures resting on the beach, and few more were spotted in the water. Small number of Antarctic Fur seals were also resting ashore as well as one Leopard seal was watching us from his iceberg.

Afternoon we were inside caldera of an active volcano – Deception Island. We landed in Whalers Bay. The bay was so named by the French Antarctic Expedition, 1908-10, under Charcot, because of its use at that time by whalers. Shore-based whaling operations began here in 1910 and ended in 1931. In 1944 Brits built here, as a part of so called “Operation Tabarin”, Base A. After the Second World War ended the base was transferred to British Antarctic Survey.
Volcanic eruption of 1969 destroyed some of whaling era remnants as well as forced BAS base personnel to be evacuated. The main building of the Base – Biscoe House, is still standing, but it was severely damaged by the ash.

More than 40 of us, instead of just roaming around landing place, decided to make extended hike to Baily Head. Not an easy, the three and half hours round trip took us to the biggest Chinstrap penguin rockery in the Antarctic Peninsula area. There are 150,000 breeding pairs of penguins there. Including their chicks it could be over 450,000 individuals!