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Antarctica: Half Moon Island and Deception Island

February 10, 2013

Antarctic mountains

Our Second day in Antarctica we had moved to Half Moon Island which is still in the South Shetland Islands. This was to be our first proper landing on a fairly small island. However the landing area was big enough to absorb all the passengers at one time.

Half Moon View

On stepping ashore we were assailed by the stench of penguin poop. This would become a familiar smell over the next few days. This was really a first taste of the Antarctic and we were blown away by the sights and sounds. There were animals everywhere with Chinstrap Penguins, Fur Seals and even a Weddell Seal.

Chinstrap with background

The expedition team had been out to the island before any of the passengers landed. They had marked out a path across the island with fluorescent orange flags and placed 2 crossed flags in areas where the passengers were not allowed. They were very ecologically aware and focused on protecting both the environment and the wildlife.

Chinstrap pengiun chicks

In one of the briefings during the Drake Passage crossing they had explained the rules to us. The two most important were to stay 5m away from the animals (unless they approached you) and to give all animals the right of way.

Chinstrap Penguin

Half Moon Island had snowy areas but also a lot of bare rock which is where the Penguins choose to nest. They build nests on the bare rock out of small stones and at the time we were in Antarctica (early February) many of the penguins had very cute, fluffy chicks.

Wedell Seal 2

This landing was great and we had almost 3 hours on the island giving loads of time to explore and also sit and soak in the atmosphere.

Pengiun on the March

In the midst of Chinstrap penguins a lone Macaroni penguin was spotted. This guy has been coming to the island for a number of years and there are usually no other Macaronis here. However this year a juvenile has been spotted suggesting that a colony may form here in the future.



The second landing of the day was Deception Island. This island is an active volcano with a sea passage into the Caldera. As we came ashore clouds of steam rose at the water’s edge from thermal activity. I buried my hand in the sand and it was too hot to keep it there.

Whaler's Bay Pano

Whaler’s Bay in Deception Island was a hotspot for Whaling until the 1950’s when basically all the whales had been caught. There are the remains of buildings here from the whaling days including large tanks for whale oil and water boats that were used to collect fresh water from the other end of the island for use in rendering whales for oil.

Oil Tanks at Whaler's Bay

We hiked up to the a dip in the crater wall, called Neptune’s Window, which gave us a view back over the bay and out to the open ocean. We were fortunate to be in the group with John, the expedition historian, and we are regaled with wonderful stories of the whaling days and early explorers who had visited Deception Island.

Water Boat

On walking back from Neptune’s window we came across a leopard seal that had hauled out on the beach. We kept a good 10m back from this guy as they can be very aggressive. A few years ago a woman from the British Antarctic Survey was drowned by a Leopard Seal while snorkeling. It was only playing but dragged her down to 70m before releasing her and she drowned attempting to surface !

Leopard Seal

As we walk the length of the beach we investigated the various buildings left over from the old days but we can’t go inside as they are all in various stages of collapse and definitely dangerous !

Whaler's Hut at Deception Island

This site is a complete contrast to Half Moon Island but nevertheless fascinating.

Grave at Deception Islanf


Fur Seal


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Itahisa Glez permalink
    October 12, 2016 6:16 pm

    Hello, I have tried contacting you by regular email but I couldn’t find any contact info, I’m sorry. My name is Itahisa González and I would like to use your Whaler’s Bay picture for a scientific poster I am doing (just to illustrate how Deception Island looks like). I would, of course, credit you, if you let me use it and tell me what kind of info I should add.

    • October 12, 2016 9:52 pm


      I am happy for you to use the picture as long as it is credited to “Mark Prior (”. I would appreciate if you could send me a link to a finished item as well so I can see how it has been used.




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