South Shetland Islands – March 10th
This morning I woke up and went out to the starboard side of the ship in time for Sunrise.
There was no-one else around and so I really felt a sense of being alone with the ocean. After our landing at Danco Island, we had sailed all night, northeast up the Gerlache Strait and North over the Bransfield Strait. We were now heading for the South Shetland Islands and the Infamous Deception Island.
It is named “Deception” as, on approach, it looks like a normal island with a coastline. However, it is hollow inside and in the shape of a C and is actually a Volcano. The last time it erupted was in 1971 and they say that it erupts every 50 years or so……
As we approached Deception Island the Captain slowed the ship, he was about to perform a difficult manoeuver. To enter Deception you must go via a small entrance named Neptune’s Bellows. For a ship our size, it is like threading a needle. Fortunately, our captain did a great job and we found ourselves in the middle of the crater of the volcano. Fingers crossed that it does not pick today to erupt!
Deception Bay is an abandoned whaling station. The beach is scattered with whale bones and the oil storage tankers stick out like sore thumbs, a reminder of how prevalent this practice was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
This station, like many others, was used to process whale carcasses to produce oil from whale blubber, mainly for lamps. During the whaling period – around 50,000 whales were being killed annually and populations of Blue whale and Sperm whale rapidly declined. Fortunately, due to low numbers and fear of extinction the “The International Whaling Committee” was set up in 1946 under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Today the number of whales have increased but are still way below the pre 20th-century numbers. Deception Bay is a stark reminder of a barbaric time human history.
We took a zodiac to Bailey Head which has one of the largest known colonies of Chinstrap penguins – approx 50,000 breeding pairs from a survey done in 2012. A shocking thing to note is that this number has decreased by 50% since the last official survey in 1986-87. What has caused this decline? Scientists report that chicks are struggling to survive due to a lack of Krill which is the chinstraps main food source. Krill depend on algae which are formed on the underside of sea ice. Warming temperatures have resulted in decreasing sea ice and therefore less krill for the penguins to feed on. Another reason for the decline in krill populations is the rebounding whale populations since the end of the whaling industry. Whales can eat up to 3.6 tonnes of krill per day!
Last stop: Livingston Island – update #8!