Tuesday 26 November 2013

The journey continues!

This is now our third day in Antarctica and we have found lots to do in the South Shetland Islands. This chain of volcanic islands is moving away from the Antarctic Peninsula a few centimetres a year as a result of seafloor spreading. The active volcano called Deception Island is a result of this continued tectonic activity.

After spending a bumpy night in the northern-western part of the Bransfield Strait, we sailed into the flooded caldera of Deception Island in the early morning. The wind was howling outside but once we were inside the caldera, it calmed down. Pack ice from last winter had piled up in Whaler’s Bay but a portion of the beach was open enough for us to land. You really have to pinch yourself when you land at this place- remember it’s a ACTIVE volcano that erupts at regular intervals. It is time for another one based on how long it has been since the last. Evidence of the volcanic activity was in the form of steam rising from the beach, a sulfur smell in the air and hot water just below the surface of the black volcanic sand. As usual there were some Gentoo Penguins on the beach and at the end of the landing, a few were able to watch a Leopard Seal lying on an ice floe. Deception is famous for its Antarctic swimming opportunities and a few brave souls ventured in to the frigid waters. Behind the beach, we explored the outside of an abandoned British base and the oldest whaling station in Antarctica, dating from the early 1900s.

Pack ice in Whaler's Bay
Leopard Seal
Leopard Seal
Marsel van Oosten
Coming back out of Deception through Neptune’s Bellows is as impressive as going in with the high volcanic cliffs and the sea stack on one side, and colourful rock and snow on the other. Once out, we headed for our second landing of the day at Walker Bay on nearby Livingston Island. By the time we reached the bay the winds had dropped and all we had to contend with was a moderate swell. However, the Expedition Team was able to find a safe place to land on the beach. This landing was like none we had done before on this trip with the beach dotted with Elephant Seals and Southern Giant Petrels nesting and roosting behind the beach. Most walked up to see the fossil collection made from the area and on display. The Elephant Seals were mainly younger males but there were a couple of huge bulls with their big “blow-up” noses, and a young “weaner” lay on the beach on its own. It’s incredible how these young seals can become independent of their parents at such a young age and without any help learn to be an Elephant Seal.

Young Elephant Seal - 'weaner'
Elephant Seals - FriedaPhoto

Some went on a Polarcirkel boat cruise around the bay and got excellent views from the water of the rich Antarctica oasis of Hannah Point with its green vegetation and breeding penguins and giant petrels.

So overall our day was fantastic with a good mixture of beautiful scenery, geology and wildlife. Stay tuned for more to come!