Day 5 |
Mar 13, 2010

Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: 62º 59,96’ S, 060º 33,6’ W

Weather: Overcast with occasional snowfalls

Air Temperature: -2ºC

Sea Temperature: 0ºC

Pressure: 997 hPa

Wind: Blowing from the NW at 15 knots

This morning, a few colleagues from the Expedition Team and I got on a Zodiac to go scouting for a possible landing at Bailey Head, on the outer side of Deception Island. I dropped three of them ashore and we had already announced a landing scheduled for 8:30 am. However, once ashore, the conditions deteriorated and proved unsafe for such activity.  Wisely, the landing was cancelled and I went back to pick them up from the beach. The breakers were indeed large and it would have been virtually impossible to land our guests there.

Deception Island is an active volcano, and as a result of erosion of its rim, a breach on the side of the caldera allows ships to enter and navigate Port Foster, a 10-km-across bay within the caldera. The Prince Albert II left Bailey Head, sailed around the south side and into Port Foster through Neptune’s Bellows.

Soon thereafter we started the landing at Whalers Bay, an abandoned whaling station.  The activities offered included, a hike to Ronald Hill, for panoramic views of the island, and a walk to Neptune’s Window, during which we got to see some Fur seals, Skuas and other wildlife along the way, but also some interesting geological features and some historical remains. 

We also offered a guided tour of the whaling station and the British Antarctic Survey base that was destroyed by the volcanic eruptions of the late 60s and early 70s. A few brave souls took the opportunity to go for a refreshing polar plunge! The temperature of the ocean water today was ranging between 1 and 0ºC, however close to the shore it was actually quite hot.  The ground was steaming and those that got in, first took a cold plunge before wallowing in the warm shallows.

By noon everybody was back onboard and we headed across the Bransfield Strait towards the Antarctic Sound.  At 2 pm one of those “There she blows!” announcements was made by our Expedition Leader Robin, but this one was special.  We were in for quite a treat.  All around the ship we had fin whales, humpbacks and orcas.  It was whale soup! The pod of orcas was composed by at least a dozen individuals, between males, females and calves. Personally, this has been the best whale encounter I have ever experienced.  To see the orcas swimming all around the bow if the ship, and the fin whales within meters, and the humpbacks doing flipper slaps with their calves, all at the same time… was almost unreal.  On top of that, a group of Fur seals was swimming around as well.  Incredible!

After a good half an hour or more of awe-inspiring whale watching, we moved on. At 2:30 Peter Damisch told the fascinating story of Otto Nordenskjold’s Swedish expedition on board the Antarctic.  An incredible story of Antarctic exploration disaster and happy coincidences, that took place in the early 1900s in the Antarctic sound.

At 5 pm I presented my lecture entitled “Earth, What lies beneath…” In this one I explained some basic concepts of geology and plate tectonics leading to the geology of the Antarctic continent and the Scotia Sea.

As I was finishing my lecture, the Captain was bringing the ship close to some pretty spectacular icebergs, the biggest we had seen this far into the trip. Jaws were dropping as we sailed past these tabular icebergs that were grounded in 240-meter deep water!

What an action-packed day! After our daily Recap & Briefing we had dinner and an early night in anticipation of, most likely, another unforgettable day in Antarctica.