Day 10 |
Dec 31, 2011

Franz Bairlein, Ornithologist

By Whalers Bay, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

Coordinates: 62°59'S, 60°33'W
Weather: Overcast, partly sunny
Air temperature: 0.8°C
Air pressure: 967 hPa
Wind: 10 km/h; 64 degree

We passed the scenic entrance to the volcanic caldera of Deception Island called “Neptune’s Bellows” at 7:00, and the Silver Explorer anchored in Whalers Bay a little later at very calm conditions. Whalers Bay is a small harbour located immediately to the northeast after passing through Neptune’s Bellows. The well-sheltered bay has been used by sealers and whalers until the beginning of the 20th century. The remaining buildings, structures and other artefacts on the shore of Whalers Bay date from the period 1906-1931 and represent the most significant whaling remains in the Antarctic. The Whalers Bay site includes a semi-circular, gently sloping blackish ash beach, which stretches for some 2 km from cliffs in the northwest to Kroner Lake, a geo-thermally heated lagoon, on the western side of the bay.

We selected a landing site next to the remains of a floating dock previously utilized by the whaling station. From here we offered guided walks to Ronald Hill (103 m) in the north of Kroner Lake, and to Neptune’s Window, a collapse in the caldera rim on the south-eastern side of Whalers Bay, while Peter Damish, our historian, was around the buildings introducing to the history of the site.

Several small groups of chinstrap penguins and a lonely gentoo penguin welcomed the guests ashore while a leopard seal was briefly seen near the landing site as well. While walking with one group to Neptune’s Window we observed several Antarctic terns, kelp gulls, brown skuas and later, at the cliffs, many breeding Cape petrels which breed there on ledges in the steep cliffs. On our way to Neptune’s Window we passed the low fluvial terraces and remains of the mudslides that formed as a result of an eruption in 1969. From Neptune’s Window we have had a wonderful view of the rocky coast and due to the clear conditions we have even seen the Antarctic Peninsula. Impressive stands of lichens grow on the boulders at Neptune’s Window.

Back at the landing site, many guests took advantage of having some quick experience with the cold Antarctic waters taking a “Polar Plunge”. At approximately 10:15 we cleared the landing site, and soon after the Silver Explorer set sail.

While sailing through the caldera towards the open sea, a humpback whale was seen ahead of the vessel. The Captain reduced the speed so that we were able to watch the whales for quite a while and even rather close to the ship. At 11:30 we reached Bailey’s Head, a possible landing site offering thousands of pairs of breeding chinstrap penguins. However, due to the heavy swell at the beach we were unable to do a landing. Instead, it was decided to set sail en route Ushuaia in order to gain time for sailing through the Drake Passage with quite some swell and rough sea expected later the day.

After lunch, at 14:00, we held a Recap & Briefing. Due to the ocean conditions and New Year’s Eve ahead we did not offer further lecture entertainment. At around 15:30, the Silver Explorer entered the open waters of the Drake with increasing swell, which made the ride a little bit uncomfortable for some of us.

In the evening I was invited to a dine with guests, and later on we gathered in the Panorama Lounge to celebrate the change of the years, completing a memorable New Year’s Eve 2011.