On one of the last days of our Antarctica expedition we visited Deception Island. This island, as part of the South Shetland Islands in the Bransfield Strait is close to the Antarctic Peninsula, is famous for a few reasons. First, it was an extremely prevalent fur seal and whaling station. For only a few years in the early 1800’s, millions of fur seals were slaughtered for their pelts to almost near extension. Fortunately, the industry was short-lived and extremely poorly managed. In the early 1900’s this bay was used for only a few years as a whaling station. Again poorly managed, this industry too was short-lived and soon abandoned. Extreme volcanic activity, with major eruptions in 1968 and 1970 once again curtailed the research work being conducted on the island. It is now part of the Antarctic treaty, making it a protected area and restricted to only human activity.
Below are images of juvenile male Arctic Fur Seals. The young males posing for my camera were the few dozens remaining in final preparations for their long journey northward to South Georgia Island. South Georgia is the primary breeding grounds for millions of Fur Seals. Every year their populations are growing. Without human intervention, that is not being slaughtered for their fur, populations are returning to extremely healthy levels. Eventually nature will take its course and their numbers will level off and should remain mostly stable.
Note the lowlands and hills. The lack of snow with the growth of so much grass, with winter rapidly approaching, is not a good sign. Every year unseasonably warmer weather, while comfortable for humans, is not beneficial to wildlife accustomed to cold and robust winds. More clear evidence of our warming planet.
Below you can watch and enjoy (as we did) the young males jousting for superiority. After a meal and a nap, they'll engage in this dance or play. While no one is injured or bitten, it's imperative they practice, for when they arrive at South Georgia everything changes. They will fight and bite and claw and scratch because - mating is serious business. Perhaps next year we can get some video of those behaviors.
Finally, an update from Happy Whale. Above is the latest record of the travels of the Humpback I photographed in Fournier Bay. I received an email from the very nice, but overwhelmed people at happy Whale. It seems there was another report of the whale being spotted. They are only now getting through the many, many images received on whales all around the world. I am enjoying this and hoping in a year or two there will be more sightings of this beautiful and massive creature.
Recently while exploring Puget Sound Underwater, I come across many beautiful small nudibranchs. We have at least 89 different identified types in our cold green waters in the Pacific Northwest. The Alabaster is common, while still very gorgeous. As they move across the sea floor of the Salish Sea, gobbling up their prey, their extremities expand and takes on an almost golden hue. Once completely stuffed to the gills, as it were, they must stop to rest. During these resting or sleeping periods the food digests. They lose mass and the cycle begins again. They can grow to nearly 7” and found almost everywhere locally.
Alabaster Nudibranch (Dirona albolineata)
To date I’ve posted many colorful still images, stunning 4K videos, and briefly discussed noteworthy topics like navigating the treacherous Lemaire Channel, Humpback and Fin Whales, Penguins, Seals and Birds, Icebergs, Pack Ice and more. Today I’ll discuss our crossing below the Antarctic Circle and trying to scuba dive in these formidable conditions. Few expeditions achieve or attempt to voyage this far south. Weather conditions are unpredictable and can pose many dangers, especially this late in the season. During our 14-day voyage, the MV Hondius sailed a total distance of 2547.5 Nautical Miles reaching our furthest southern position of 66°62.2’S / 067°29.7’W in Crystal Sound.
Shortly after our arrival at Detaille Island, many passengers went ashore to visit the historic and well preserved British “Base W”. It had been hurriedly abandoned in 1959, but many of inhabitants’ original artifacts, such as books, gear, clothing, coffee cans, etc., still remain as a monument. A few of us were extremely fortunate enough to scuba and snorkel the frigid ice filled waters nearby. The zodiacs were loaded down with our heavy dive and camera gear, and we headed through a maze of Icebergs and Pack Ice, with strong winds pounding the little boats. Winds quickly gusted to over 70 mph forcing us out of the chilly depths, fortunately though we were able to snorkel within the relative safety of a small bay nearby. As we approached the bay, a group of Gentoo penguins greeted us on the rocks, but remained safe and secure from the large teeth of hungry Leopard Seal lurking just offshore. The Crab-eater Seals resting on the ice must prepare for the impending winter.
Although difficult to get exact numbers, the best estimates according to the IAATO* 2019 – 2020 season data show that annually about 55,000 to 75,000 people visit Antarctica, including scientists. Of those who dare to venture to the massive and amazing frozen continent, most will visit only a relatively small section of the Antarctic Peninsula known as Graham Land. Many will venture ashore, but not all. Of the roughly 75,000 visitors, fewer than 750 accomplish ‘Deep Field Tourism’. These are the individuals that actually walk onto land this far south. Even more impressive, the very best estimates are that fewer than 70 people in the world will scuba in the waters below 66º33,49.4' South as we did. Only eight were able to attempt a dive at Detaille Island, an accomplishment I will not soon forget.
4K Video Short of Scuba Dive and Snorkel at Detaille Island - below the Antarctic Circle.
Winds to 70 mph, Water Temp: 0°C, salinity 3.5%, Air Temp: 3°C.
Our expedition soon began to journey northward heading towards Fournier Bay. Stunning views with another opportunity to scuba on and below a massive iceberg. Besides the cold water, often at or below 32º Fahrenheit, choosing to scuba around an iceberg can be disorienting and deadly dangerous. Barely 10% of an iceberg is above the surface, most of its mass and weight are far below. Its constantly melting, even in freezing waters. The continual shedding of fresh water into the surrounding saltwater can wreak havoc with a diver’s buoyancy. The mass of a large glacier can attract a diver much like a magnet. Getting one’s sea legs, as it were, is challenging, even for the most experienced diver. Another unique danger of diving an iceberg is that it may roll over at any time. Depending on how close a diver is, it can roll over and crush a human with no warning.
4K Video Short Iceberg Scuba Dive at Fournier Bay.
Winds to 20 mph, Water Temp: 0°C, salinity 3.5%, Air Temp: 3°C
The sheer beauty of an enormous glacier seen from below the surface is spectacular. As the blue ice melts thousands of tiny air bubbles are released and escape toward the surface. The release of air and freshwater continually forms irregular lines and grooves and ridges. The visibility beneath the surface is deceptive as well. At first glance it may seem clear, allowing one to see quite far. In reality, because only minimal ambient light from above is able to penetrate a few meters of depth, it can be misleading and potentially dangerous to the unwitting scuba diver. Overall, a unique experience filled with beauty and wonder.