Saturday, November 21, 2009

Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands. Thursday, November 19

(There seems to have been a standard naming convention for island groups in the Antarctic: “South [Name of a North Atlantic island group]”)

Our first stop is Baily Head--a large rock headland next to a long, straight black gravel (not sand) beach. The beach is directly exposed to the open ocean so landings here can be rough. For us it was easy, they just beached the zodiac and we climbed out.

Chinstrap Penguins everywhere. almost 100,000 chinstrap penguins. Squads of penguins going into the ocean. Squads of penguins coming out of the ocean. A constant coming and going of penguins. It is sensory overload. (But at least not olfactory overload--the guano smell isn’t as bad advertised). You don’t worry about steeping in Penguin guano, you just step in it--it is everywhere.

Nesting (moving small rocks to make a nest on the ground), courtship, mating behavior are all happening. Some pairs already have two eggs. Nests (a bunch of small rocks on the ground) are in tightly packed clusters--a nesting penguin will only defend its territory as far as it can reach without getting off the nest. The tightly packed nests help the penguins defend against gull-likeSkua. The Skua is a predatory bird that takes eggs and chicks.

In the afternoon we sail into the sunken caldera of this active volcano. Fast ice (ice still connected to the shore) still covers about a third of the caldera--we plow right into it--about two ship links and stop. Looks like about 18” thick ice. They put out the gang-plank test the ice, and let the passengers walk out of the ship for some hot chocolate on the ice. This is a unique experience for some of the passengers.

We then go to an area near the shore where the water is warmer. We're invited to take a polar plunge. So I did. It was cold

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