December 30, 2012 – Halfmoon Island, Deception Island
Posted on December 31st, 2012
Temperature: 34° F
Wind speed: 10 knots
Cloud cover: 75%
With spectacular mountain scenery all around, Captain Etienne Garcia dropped anchor off of Halfmoon Island in the South Shetlands. The Zodiacs landed in calm conditions on a cobble beach with several chinstrap penguins in attendance to greet us. The decaying remains of an old wooden boat were laying slightly above the shoreline, and the brightly painted orange Argentine Station, Camara could be seen in the distance on the southwest side of the island.
We made our way up the hill to the chinstrap penguin colony, and then headed off to the left towards a remote beach and more penguins beyond. Our timing was perfect as it was exactly hatching time for this colony of chinstraps; some of the nests had tiny grey chicks, while others still had two eggs that were undoubtedly very close to hatching.
The value of small stones to chinstrap penguins became crystal clear when we witnessed them presenting stones to one another, an exchange that was usually followed by a slow bow. Despite the plethora of stones to choose from, the penguins seemed hell-bent on stealing stones from the nests of their neighbors, a trend that rarely went over without altercation.
We left the chinstraps to their own devices and headed back to the ship for lunch. Meanwhile, Captain Etienne Garcia pointed the ship in the direction of our afternoon destination, the famed Deception Island. Deception Island is so-named because although it appears to be a normal island at first glance, it’s actually the flooded caldera of a volcano. With care, it is possible to sail a ship right inside the volcano itself! While ‘Le Boreal’ made its passage into the center of Deception Island through Neptune’s Bellows, geologist Henry Pollack pointed out many of the interesting geological features of this fascinating place.
We landed in Whaler’s Bay, which is the site of the partially buried remains of the Hektor Whaling Station, and the remnants of a British base, which was destroyed by a mud and debris flow that swept down the mountainside in 1968, burying and destroying most of the human-made structures. We roamed the rusty remains of the station, then took a hike along the beach to a break in the caldera wall above Whaler’s Bay called Neptune’s Window.
Large clouds of geothermal steam rising from the gravel shoreline enticed a few of the bravely foolish (or foolishly brave!) to take a dip in what is widely regarded as the best swimming hole in the Antarctic. Shrieking voices, full sprints back up the beach, and clothes scattered in messy piles atop the volcanic black sand summarized this ultimate Antarctic experience.
After we returned to ‘Le Boreal’ and the last of our Zodiacs were craned back on board, we gathered for a recap and then dinner. Many of us went off to bed early, saving our energy for tomorrow night’s New Year’s Eve festivities.
– Rich Pagen, Naturalist