Saturday, 9 January 2010

Half Moon and Deception

After braving the Drake Passage, we arrived at the South Shetland Islands -- icy outposts of the Antarctic Peninsula. The vessel sailed between two snowcapped islands, Nelson and Robert, passing several impressive tabular icebergs. Penguins appeared around the ship, porpoising through the water with amazing agility. We had made such good time crossing the Drake we were a little bit ahead of schedule. After IAATO safety briefings, the passengers were more than happy to leave the comfort of the Fram and experience Antarctica face-to-face.
We arrived at Half Moon Island, home to numerous chinstrap penguins. Many penguins were tending fluffy chicks or sitting on eggs. The noise of the rookery was impressive, almost as impressive as the unique odor of penguin poop! A wayward visitor appeared -- a lone macaroni penguin waddled up to stand amid the chinstraps. White sheathbills, small scavenger birds, nimbly made their way between the nesting penguins.
Voracious skuas patrolled the skies overhead in search of unattended chicks. The light changed throughout the landing, and the wind increased ever so slightly to put a noticeable nip in the air.

The day ended with our ship entering through the narrow gap of Neptune´s Bellows into Whaler´s Bay at Deception Island. Deception Island is a circular-shaped piece of land – the shape was created by the remnants of a collapsed caldera that flooded with seawater thousands of years ago. The island is still volcanically active, the last major eruptions occurring in 1967 and 1969. Many pintado petrels nest amid the volcanic rocks around the island. Our first day in Antarctica was a memorable one.