An Ancient Caldera – Deception Island
Baily Head, Deception Island, South Shetlands Islands.
Lat: 62° 59’ S, Long: 60° 29’ W
Wind: 2 Knt NE, Temp: 0° C (8 AM)
Whaler’s Bay, Deception Island. Lat: 62° 57’ S, Long: 60° 33’
Wind: 5 Knt SE, Temp: 0° C (8 PM)
While we were sleeping last night, the Ushuaia sailed back through the Antarctic Sound and into the Bransfield Strait, which was a mini Drake Passage…a bit more of a rough sea than we’ve had in the past few days. It must not have been too awful because I slept through it. We were in the zodiacs by 9:00 am and headed for an amazing location…Deception Island, part of the South Shetland Islands group.
Deception Island is the largest of the three recently active volcanic centers in the South Shetland Islands. It’s a ring-shaped caldera, with a large harbor named Port Foster inside of the caldera, which is 9 miles in diameter. Deception Island’s rim has cones and peaks that average approximately 984 feet above sea level. The highest point is Mount Pond at 1,798 feet above sea level. The most recent eruptions here were in 1970, 1969, 1967, and 1956.
Our first landing today (area shown above) was on the outside of the caldera, at a point called Bailey Head. It’s a tricky place to land because of the waves, and tourists do not often get the opportunity to land here. We were lucky once again, and the whole Homeward Bound group went ashore. Time for a group photo…and now that I look at the picture I realize how large our group really is. Homeward Bound has seventy-six women in science, our leadership and science faculty members, a film crew, and one expedition guide.
With three hours to wander around, people spread out and walked the beach or headed inland a bit to check out the Chinstrap penguin nesting sites. It was hilarious watching the penguins walk back and forth from the land to the sea. I love that it’s all black going one direction and white facing the other. It’s like this was Highway 1 for penguins!
Penguins that could use a bath in the sea…but notice the black “chinstrap” on all of them.
Holly North and I proudly held the Polar Educators International banner! This organization connects educators and scientists to share information, photographs, webinars with polar science linked to educational activities, and so much more! This photo also gives you an idea of what the landscape looked like today. Rolling hills…packed with thousands of penguins, about 200,000 in all. I’m getting so used to the cacophony of each rookery that I hardly notice it anymore. It seems so natural to be walking with the penguins…we have had so many amazing experiences already on this voyage!!
Of course, there was the usual and expected gathering or stealing of rocks for nest building. Often the nesting penguins will totally freak out when one of their group comes back to try to place a rock in a nest. They jump up, make a huge racket, and lunge out with their beaks. It’s all rather aggressive really.
This little guy (or gal) was moving fast…scurrying around, on a mission to somewhere! They travel in groups in single file lines, alone, or in pairs. Everywhere I looked there were penguins on the move!
I didn’t spot any chicks today, but did see several eggs when some of the Chinstraps stood up to rotate the eggs. If you look very carefully you can see TWO eggs under this penguin below. It is very common for the adults to have two chicks in a nest.
On the other end of the beach there was a sleepy Weddell seal. It barely lifted its head to check us out.
Heading back toward the landing spot, all of a sudden another seal popped out of the water, but it was an Antarctic fur seal. Can you see that crazy mane the male has! Looks like a bad hair day to me! This guy was going in and out of the waves, and penguins were scattering to get away from him, AND trying to check him out at the same time. Penguins are such curious creatures!
I asked Greg, our expedition leader, about this mane…because I’d never seen this type of thing before. He told me that the male was molting (shedding its fur) and it seemed a bit early for this to be happening. It seems rather spikey!
It amazes me how busy penguins are…nesting behaviors, waddling to and fro…to the water, to their nesting areas, picking up rocks, extending their necks and raising those beaks high in the air and making a racket. This was such a great landing site…a chance to spend quality time observing animals in their natural habitat. All too soon it was time to return to the Ushuaia.
Lunch was served back on the ship and we spent the afternoon listening to lots of science lectures. As part of Homeward Bound, each participant has to present a 3-minute talk about their work back home. Have you ever tried to explain something in three minutes? Not easy! Thankfully I presented my science communication and educational outreach talk today…now I can sit back and be a good listener as 45 or more women do their talks.
This evening was a special treat…a second shore landing for today. The Ushuaia had been moving into the caldera while we were working this afternoon. It was surreal to move through the narrow opening in the caldera, called Neptune’s Bellows. Inside of the caldera is Whaler’s Bay, which was named by the French explorer Charcot back in the early 1900’s when this area was heavily used for whaling. As the zodiacs hit the beach, the scene looked like some sort of post-apocalyptic scene from a science fiction movie. In reality, it was just the remnants of the old whaling station. In 1906 a joint Norwegian and Chilean whaling factory ship called the Gobernador Bories used this bay as a base. Claimed by Britain in 1908 as part of the Falklands Island Dependency, a Norwegian company leased it from Britain in 1911 to set up a whaling station. Operations here continued until 1931, when the price of whale oil dropped.
The tanks above were used for fuel, and the ones below were used for boiling down the whale blubber to make the whale oil.
To be honest, I’m not sure which buildings were part of the whaling operations or the British scientific research station (called Base B) which was built in 1944. A hangar was built (1961) to store the planes used to support survey work and the other British bases on the Antarctic Peninsula. This base was occupied from 1944 until 1967, and research was mainly meteorology. The hangar is pictured below.
Volcanic eruptions and mud flows caused evacuation of the base in 1967. Although the British attempted to reopen it in 1968, another eruption in 1969 made closure of the base permanent. The mud flow changed the landscape here and destroyed many of the buildings, but what remains is protected as an Historic Site under the Antarctic Treaty.
Most of the original graveyard was destroyed by mud flows, but these two grave sites remain.
As the sun was inching further and further down the horizon, it was time to re-board the ship. What a lovely evening to be out on Deception Island.
Enjoy a few last photos from today. I’ll be back with more news tomorrow!