Ship's Route:
10 and 11
Sunday, 25/11/2001 Hannah Point, Livingston Island
Noon navigation report from the bridge:
Location:Deception Island
Latitude:62°50'S
Longitude:060°31'W
Speed:15 Knots
Air Temperature:5°C/41°F
Sea Temperature:0°C/32°F
Wind Speed/Direction:  Force 5/West

The morning began with an announcement that a pod of orcas was swimming near the ship, and so we hurriedly dressed and raced out on deck to see tall dorsal fins receding in the distance. We would do much better with our wildlife spotting as the day progressed. Hannah Point was named after a Liverpool seal hunting ship which sank here on Christmas day in 1820. Much of the history of man and the Antarctic was forged by greed for easy (to the investors) resource extraction from the environment, and the most profitable enterprises became seal pelts and whale oil. The entire region is littered with the remains of ships, bases and equipment dedicated to these endeavors. As hard and dangerous as it was for those men who sailed down south in the hope of making a decent living, the profits from successful voyages well repaid the wealthy merchants back at home in Europe and America, and so the industry continued right through to the 1960s!

As we cruised in our zodiacs toward our landing site, a leopard seal appeared and began to swim alongside and around the rubber craft, often times lifting itself out of the water to get a better look inside our vessels. Unlike the gregarious fur seals, or the sometimes ill tempered Weddell seals, the leopard seal was an opportunistic hunter that would take on anything smaller than itself -- including man. The journals from Shackleton's ill fated expedition are filled with accounts of leopard seals leaping up onto the ice and chasing after men. At one point, desperate for food, the survivors would send out the shorter members of the party onto the ice to waddle around like penguins, while other men with rifles hid nearby. Any leopard seal in the area would rush out from the water and charge the men, who would race back toward the sharp shooters, and so the party was able to obtain a fresh supply of meat long after the penguins had migrated elsewhere for the winter. Less than a month after we returned from our trip we read about a researcher in Antarctica who was killed by a leopard seal that pulled her underwater. Needless to say we were a bit concerned as we watched this particular leopard seal look over us in the zodiacs like a we might look over entrees on a menu.

Our first steps onto the rocky shore took us past a discarded harpoon cannon from a whaling ship, and onto the shore of the first Antarctic landmass discovered and documented by Europeans. William Smith, a 28 year old captain of an 82 ton general trading vessel, the Williams, sailed his vessel far south of Cape Horn in order to escape a terrible storm. At 62° south and 60° west he saw land and named it Williams Point. Here he found the remains of the Spanish galleon San Telmo, lost long before, and he also realized that the islands around him must be off shore from a vast continent. While Smith never saw the main land, he reported his discovery when he returned home. His fellow countrymen, however, were unimpressed and have quite forgotten their native son, William Smith, the discoverer of Antarctica.

We had less ambitious goals, and as we hiked over a rocky ridge, we passed through a nesting colony of chinstraps, with three pair of very out of place looking Macaroni penguins (just look at the photo to see how aptly they were named). Beyond the ridge we carefully wandered through the nesting ground of a colony of Gentoo penguins. The Gentoos appeared to had been there for some time, and we noticed that, unlike the nearby Chinstraps, at least one penguin remained on each Gentoo nest at all times. Intrigued we set up for a longer watch, and we were soon rewarded with the sight of penguin chicks peeking (and peeping) and from under their parents. Some of the group decided to forgo the days hike and spend their time there among the penguins, filming closeups of the hatch-lings. We opted to continue with the hike, and then spend extra time observing the chicks on our way back.

Beyond the penguin nesting grounds (although not beyond the range of the wandering penguins) we found a small herd of young sea elephants basking in the sand (there were occasional periods of sunshine that day).
The elephant seals grunted as they shifted about, trying to find the ideal position for an early morning snooze, and also, whew!, expelling copious quantities of noxious gas out either end. You could hear them belching and farting for over a hundred meters away, and when the wind changed directions the smell was awful and overpowering.

Past the nose-some pit of elephant seals we clambered higher up off the beach and reached our destination: a collection of shales and slates containing fossils from the Oligocene Period. David, our staff geologist, discussed the fossils of relatively warm weather plants, such as ferns -- obviously the land was considerably warmer in the past than it was now.

We spent as much time as possible back with the nesting penguins, and after a few dozen more photos of the chicks we returned to the Adventurer, which set sail for our next destination for the day.

Gallery

Deception Island

Deception Island is the top of a volcano that erupted and collapsed in on itself much like Mt. Saint Helens, but on a much, much larger scale. A portion of the eastern rim of the remaining crater exploded outward, allowing the sea to rush into the caldera, creating a horseshoe shaped island. Ships can sail into the heart of the caldera, and numerous whaling and research stations have been set up over the decades. The volcano is still active, and eruptions have been reported at irregular intervals over the past century and a half. The earliest episode was reported by Wilkes in 1842 when he wrote that he saw "the entire south rim of the crater on fire", and the most recent event was in 1970. Witnesses to later eruptions reported that the sea level within the crater rose up to 2 meters! Eruptions in 1967 and 1969 destroyed the Chilean and British research station, plus the whaling station, and while there are no permanent residents (or structures) on the island, Argentina and Spain have summer stations there.

The island was well behaved for our visit, and provided just enough heat to warm our toes in the sand, or for the more daring of us, to provide a unique chance to take a dip in Antarctic waters without fear of near instant hypothermia. The Adventurer threaded her way between the narrow opening in Deception Island's caldera, passing beneath the Cathedral Crags, and through Neptune's Bellows. We hiked through the mists of the warm sandy shore and up through the abandoned whaling station, with its massive rusting steel tanks sitting askew after having been knocked about by the most recent eruption. We passed by the ever present penguins (Chinstraps again), and continued our hike up the inside wall of the north eastern rim of the crater to look out over through a gap known as Neptune's Window. Elayne and I spent a a little more time here after the others had returned to the beach, because. the lighting and oddly shaped landscape made for captivating views. We too eventually had to return, and so made our way back alone along the shore line, making a slight detour around a disinterested Weddell Seal.

Elayne then participated in the much anticipated South Polar Swim, which was really more of a soak in the somewhat luke warm
water created from mixing the heated water running through the beach sand with the much colder sea water from the island bay. A small berm was scooped up from the warm black sand, thus creating a long pool of heated water in which to bathe. A handful of other passengers and staff indulged themselves in this past time, while the rest of us stood close by, looking on in amusement, or perhaps disguised jealousy. Unsatisfied with the simple soaking, Elayne pushed out into the deeper freezing water (literally at 0° C) before returning to towel off and put on some warm clothes. For her bravery and hardiness she was awarded with a certificate for her cold water swim. I too was awarded a certificate, but one for my display of sanity and common sense at opting out of this exercise.

Gallery


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