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01/02/2008

Half-Moon Island and Deception Island

Early this morning, the sun was shining through a hole in the clouds. A flock of forty-six pintado (cape) petrels flew along with the ship as we headed north through the Bransfield Strait. After breakfast, we arrived at Half Moon Island in the South Shetland archipelago. The 2-km long, somewhat crescent-shaped island was covered in snow. Chinstrap penguins traveled worn routes through the snow from the sea to their colony. Some nests were far from the ocean and high up scree slopes, requiring concerted walking and rock-hopping to reach them. Being both social and seeming to need a bit of personal space, the chinstraps were mesmerizing to observe closely, as Patricia had rightly mentioned we should do. Skuas lurked nearby, and the occasional passing over flight caused consternation in the colony. There were some young fuzzy gray chicks being closely brooded by a parent on a nest of stones. The occasional piercing ecstatic call by an adult broke the otherwise silent scene. Courting Antarctic terns called while rotating about one another on a slab of granite, their dance hardly noticed by the nearby gulls. The kelp gulls stood beside middens of thousands of regurgitated limpet shells, the remnants of their primary dietary item. Nearby Livingston Island resembled some ice age land with huge glaciers and snowfields fringing the frigid seas. What a place this would have been to inhabit in the 1820s when sealers came to harvest the abundant fur seals.

We traveled southwest to reach Deception Island at 1400. So-named for its narrow, inconspicuous entrance, Deception is a volcanic caldera with a massive embayment within. We passed through Neptune’s Bellows and turned to enter Whaler’s Bay, where thousands of whales were processed during the early 20th century. Henry and Ron took turns on the PA system. Henry explained the origins of the striking geological features we were seeing and Ron told us of the history of the island. Onshore, a recently weaned leopard seal, looking emaciated, slept on the cinder beach near the landing site. Within a flipper’s length were half a dozen chinstrap penguins, entirely unconcerned about the young seal. The animal looked emaciated and may have only recently been weaned from its mother’s milk. There were many historical monuments to be seen here from various eras of human occupation, most of them partially buried by cinders and mud from the last great eruption of 1970. At the far end the beach rested a sub adult male leopard seal, his hind flippers washed by the lapping waters. At Neptune’s Window, the spot from which Nathaniel Palmer putatively first spotted the Antarctic Peninsula, we saw beautiful blue ocean, as the sun finally shone. To either side, Pintado petrels called from their cliff nests in the ancient solidified ash flow. Spectacular views were had of the Bransfield Strait on one side and Whaler’s Bay on the other. Several intrepid swimmers took the plunge into icy waters at the landing site, wondering what had happened to the supposed geothermal waters of the island.
Warmly bundled onlookers enjoyed the scene and handed towels to the quickly retreating plungers.

Soon after, the ship repositioned to Telefon Bay. This, our third landing of the day, entailed a fine hike across a landscape of pumice and compacted mud to the rim of a crater. Just beyond we could see the mixture of ash, mud and ice in a layer cake fashion on a glacier. A melt water fall plunged through a hole in the glacier, disappearing briefly, only to reappear on the flattened crater floor. The view of Port Foster was lovely. We had had a very full and wonderful final day in Antarctica and owed much of the success of the trip to the excellent planning and constant efforts of our Expedition Leader Marco Favero and our Captain, John Moulds. We left Deception Island late in the evening and proceeded toward the Drake Passage.

   

Passengers walk up to the Chinstrap penguin colony on Half Moon Island.

A Chinstrap penguin makes its way through the snow back to its nest after returning from the sea.

An adult penguin feeds its fluffly gray chick.

Many people hiked up to Neptune's Window at Whaler's Bay on Deception Island.

Three of many brave souls on the Explorer II splashed their way into Antarctic waters for a very brief swim!


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