As an expedition naturalist, it is exciting to be able to go to new places – and as I age, this happens less frequently than I might like. I’ve been around a bit, you see. However, there is a huge joy in finding new places, and working with Lindblad, this happens relatively often. You might say that I feel happy to have found my spiritual home here. Today was such a day, and a new landing for all the expedition staff, in a place we know well – Deception Island. The landing was Stancombe Cove, just over the water from Telefon Bay. Named after one of the primary funders of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition, the bay has a steep climb up to a crater viewpoint. Just one of many sub craters in the huge caldera that is Deception Island, this offers a two- or three-mile hike around the rim of a volcano that appears to be on another planet – so bleak is the surrounding terrain. From the crater, we had a splendid view over to the ship and marvellously calm conditions, and for the 30 or so souls that made the hike, it was a pretty warm day and a stiff, energetic walk.
Options galore exist in Deception Island, and some guests opted for a Zodiac cruise to see the steaming beaches of Pendulum Cove or a shorter hike along the slopes of Telefon Bay itself. While we saw little wildlife, we had excellent conditions for those of us who are keen on geology – and having two professional geologists on the team, we are all, gradually, getting there with our rock knowledge. Obviously, being inside a volcano, those of us who are less able with our rock knowledge were able to confidently say that everything around us was igneous.
Following yet another delicious lunch, our expedition leader and myself went to scout a possible double landing at Hannah Point and Walker Bay. The site is closed for most of the season, opening just a week or so ago. It is densely packed with wildlife to the extent that it is impossible to land. Chinstrap and gentoo penguins nest there in large numbers, while giant petrels, kelp gulls, storm petrels and elephant seals populate the island’s steep cliffs. It is a truly remarkable place and feels like Antarctica has been reduced, concentrated, distilled perhaps into one glorious place, and it was our good fortune to find ourselves there to witness one of the most brutal, yet riveting, scenes of carnage as leopard seals, in number, took young fledging gentoo chicks in the water. It is painful to watch, and clearly painful for the penguin involved as it takes a while for the seal drown it. Then, brutally, the seal shakes the penguin violently from side to side throwing it through the air to shake its skin off, so that the meat can be eaten. A cloud of Wilsons’ storm petrels hovered above the kill site, while gulls alighted alongside the kill causing the seal to lunge wildly in a frenzy of gore. Mesmerising and chilling at the same time. Witnessing this was one of the highlights of an already incredible trip.