Southern Ocean, Barrientos Island & Deception Island

Jan 29, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer

Of course, today was about the first penguins, that most endearing of birds, but it was the marine mammals that made all the headlines, and rightly so. But first a little rewinding is necessary.

The first of many extraordinary moments to the day began with some amazing sightings of fin whales: the greyhounds of the seas and the second largest creature on the planet. Their characteristic white, right lower jaw clearly visible as the whales traveled alongside on our port side.

We then sailed through the English Strait with good views of the surrounding islands, often with good examples of columnar basalt. And shortly afterwards we were rewarded with an amazing encounter with the largest animal that ever inhabited the planet, the magnificent blue whale. What was most extraordinary and moving was the fact that these animals were in inland waters. After lunch we made our first landing on Barrientos Island and at long last we were all able to enjoy these delectable birds. There were two species, gentoo and chinstrap penguins and both were into the crèche stage.

But it was not all about penguins for next to the landing there were six young elephant seals molting. For most of the time they slumbered, but occasionally they would wake up jostle and snort. The drama of the afternoon was brought to us once again with a marine mammal, this time by a female leopard seal hunting penguins offshore. We were awestruck by the stealth and the sheer power of this sublime predator.

After our time in the Aitcho Islands we sailed for Deception Island and just after dinner sailed through the impressive Neptune’s Bellows and into the caldera. We then drew near to the old whaling station and British Base, before heading south for new adventures. This first day in Antarctica has been truly memorable.

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About the Author

Edward Shaw


Edward Shaw has travelled widely as a naturalist and guide. For the past 29 years he has lived with his family in northwestern Patagonia, initially working as a teacher and subsequently working in community projects before returning to expedition ships. Edward is deeply committed to the principles behind sustainable development. He is happily married and the father of five children.

About the Photographer

Jessica Farrer


Jessica graduated with a degree in evolutionary biology from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Since graduation she has worked in fisheries management on commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea, counted Steller sea lions from cliffs in the Aleutian Islands, tagged sea lions in the Galápagos and monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and for four austral springs she lived in a retrofitted refrigerator container on the Antarctic sea ice near McMurdo Station. In Antarctica she worked on a long-term population study of Weddell seals and hopes to continue working in this ecosystem on predator-prey dynamics of the Ross Sea. 

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