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Day 9 - February 6, 2010 - Whaler's Bay, Port Foster, Antarctica

By Claudia Holgate, Climatologist

Co-ordinates: 62o 58,8S 60o 33,7W
Weather: Calm and clear with a few clouds knocking around
Air Temperature: -2.5C
Wind: 23km/h Northerly Wind
Pressure: 999 HPa

Today is one of the highlights of every Antarctic voyage: Whaler’s Bay. We arrived at Neptune’s Bellows at 8:15am, a very reasonable time for our guests to make their way outside and watch as we sailed between volcanic cliffs into the Caldera, a very narrow gap, which makes this such a special place. Deception Island is one of the few volcanic calderas where the wall has been breached and water has flooded inside. This is what gives the island its name, as from the outside it appears as if it is a solid island, however, if you find the gap, you can sail right into a naturally protected area. The whalers of the time, of course took advantage of this and set up a whaling station in one of the bays within Deception Island, hence its name.

The whaling station that we could explore was the remains of the Hecktor whaling station, a Norwegian station that operated between 1912 and 1931. Incredible perhaps that when it stated was about the same time as men were trying to make it to the South Pole.

The British then took over in 1944 and used some of the existing buildings, as well as building an aircraft hanger as a means of keeping an eye on any wartime activity that may have been going on in the far south. After the war, the base was named British Base B and used for research purposes until it was almost completely destroyed by a mud flow caused by one of the volcanic eruptions in 1969.

Our guests had a choice of activities this morning, either a guided walk up to Neptune’s Window, a notch in the side of the caldera that allows one to see the peninsula on a clear day like today, or to walk up Ronald Hill, which is on the other side of the bay and where one can get a spectacular view of the entire caldera. The third option was to explore the remains of the whaling station, including the boilers, oil tanks and whalers’ cemetery.

Those guests who took the Neptune’s Window option had a great view of three seal species – a leopard seal had hauled out on the beach, as had a group of 8 fur seals and a few Weddell seals. These are just transient animals and not breeding here, but it was great to see them on land. The birds were great too, with Skuas, Shags and Antarctic terns. Although this was almost a penguin-free day, we did have a few chinstrap penguins along the beach close to the aircraft hanger.

The highlight however, was the polar plunge, for those who did it and for those who watched with great amusement as the plungers came racing out the water with interesting looks on their faces. Unfortunately, there was no geothermally heated water coming through the sand today, so nobody could wallow in the first shallow section of water to warm up and the brave swimmers headed back to the ship for a more formal Jacuzzi on the back deck.

The afternoon was free, as we had to start our journey back to Ushuaia through the Drake Passage where the weather is predicted to be rougher than we had hoped for.

Late this afternoon, Peter, our historian, gave his great lecture on Shackleton, By Endurance We Conquer, which is only Part 1 of a two-part series on Shackleton and his great Antarctic adventures.

Recap & Briefing followed, allowing the expedition staff to give a bit of info about some of the things that we had experienced and seen over the last two days, before we headed off to The Restaurant, for another fantastic dinner looking out over calm seas and blue sky.

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