Today was the first day of expedition in Antarctica. We began at Snow Island, which made for a beautiful landing with plenty of elephant seals, the largest of all pinnipeds. A couple of young fur seals, nesting giant petrels, and a few gentoo and chinstrap penguins were all accompanying us at the landing. Snow Island is in the southwest corner of the South Shetland Islands, an archipelago that forms the first landmass you encounter when you travel south from South America.
Deception Island is one of two active volcanoes in Antarctica. The caldera formed after a major volcanic eruption about 10,000 years ago, where a vast amount of lava blown out on to the surface led to an emptying of the magma chamber down below, and eventually resulted in a collapse of the volcano. The center part of the caldera is today flooded by sea water, through the narrow opening at Neptune’s Bellows.
Our Zodiac cruise this afternoon was on the outskirts of Deception Island, near Baily Head. This is an active nesting area for a chinstrap penguin colony which contains numerous shag nests on cliff edges. Baily Head itself is comprised of consolidated volcanic ash layers, altered to palagonite, the breakdown of which the chinstraps use to build their nests.