Antarctica: Half Moon Island and Deception Island
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 !
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 !
This site is a complete contrast to Half Moon Island but nevertheless fascinating.