Plunging into our final day in Antarctica

Thursday 9 February 2023

Day 9: 25th Jan, Out to Deception Island

Heading away from the calm waters of the Antarctic Peninsula, we began our journey north towards the South Shetland Islands. We gathered for breakfast as usual at 7:30, with a few of us leaving for bird and marine mammal surveys quickly after. Visibility was quite poor for the first few morning surveys, with haze blocking most of the view. Around 11:00, though, the haze began to lift and wildlife finally started to appear. Our second marine mammal survey saw two separate humpback whale sightings, with the first whale being within 100m of the ship! It wasn’t long after that we could finally begin to see our landing site for the day: Deception Island.

Surveying as we approach Deception island (by Simone) and a close giant petrel view (by Kelly)

An active volcano, Deception Island is a horse-shoe shaped island located off Antarctica’s northern tip. Back in the day, the island used to be one of the world’s most prominent whaling spots. Although whaling has since stopped there, the island’s unique landscape draws in many tourists and researchers. Its interesting name can be attributed to the fact that it looks as if it would be a normal island, but is actually a ring around a flooded caldera (very deceiving). This became more obvious as we cruised through Neptune’s Bellows, a narrow channel that opens the caldera to the sea.

As we cruised through the channel, we suddenly saw Weddell and Antarctic fur seals resting on the rocky beaches on both sides of the ship (we counted around 60 fur seals on just one beach!). In addition to wildlife, we were struck with amazing scenery. Unlike the predominantly white landscapes of the Antarctic Peninsula, Deception Island had a very different otherworldly feel to it, comprising barren volcanic slopes and ash-covered glaciers.

Entrance into Deception Island via Neptune’s Bellows (by Kelly) and Antarctic fur seals (by Simone)

As soon as the ship stopped, we ended surveys and headed to lunch. Afterwards, we reconvened in the Science Center and worked on entering data from this morning’s surveys as well as those from previous days.

Around 15:00, our group was called for our excursion. We all piled into a zodiac and, after a short 5-minute cruise, reached our destination: Telefon Bay. We were informed of two hiking route options in the area and, naturally, chose to do the more strenuous route around the Telefon Bay caldera. We made the steep climb atop the ridge, where we had stunning views of the island. Skuas flew around us and, at times, came a bit too close. One looked as if it was about to charge at me which, after learning that they can in fact attack people, was a lot scarier in hindsight.

The team hiking around Deception island (by Simone)

We eventually made it back down to the beach where our next activity was awaiting… the Polar Plunge! Already in our swimsuits, we stripped out of our many layers and anxiously waited for the call to run in. As soon as Sonja counted down from 10, we all ran into the freezing Southern Ocean (with a curious chinstrap penguin watching us the entire time). Most people only lasted a few seconds and quickly ran out; however, some of us were crazy enough to go in a second time – double polar plunge!

Polar plunge! (by Sonja)

Cold, wet, and very numb, we put our layers back on and rode back to the ship. Upon arriving, many of us decided to do another plunge – though this time it took place in a slightly warmer place: the hot tub. Disappointingly lukewarm, the hot tub didn’t do it for us, and so we ventured to the sauna taking in the views of the island from the window.

Finally warmed up, we went for dinner at 18:30. Tonight happened to be an extra special dinner, though, as it was Burns Night. Rebecca delivered the famous “Address to a Haggis”, ending her performance by dramatically plunging a butter knife into a bread roll (we worked with what we had, as no haggis was to be found on the ship, sadly). After our improvised Burns Night celebration, we reconvened in the Science Center, frantically entering data before beginning the rough return across the Drake Passage…

Written by Simone

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