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Published: December 29th 2009
When we awoke the next morning the Drake Passage had been cleared and we had sailed up the Bransfield Strait into the South Shetland Islands. The ship dropped anchor in Discovery Bay, a bay off Greenwich Island, sheltered from the Bransfield Strait by Robert Island, which lay opposite. It was from Discovery Bay that we had a Zodiac (rubber dinghy) cruise around the coastline. Although the seas were calm, it was still pretty choppy. As I was positioned at the front of the boat, I soon had a tasty mouth full of Antarctic water! As the Zodiac cruised around the bay, penguins swam next to us. They swam in a very strange but 'penguin' way, almost dolphin-like as they dived in and out of the rolling swells.
There was plenty of bird life sitting on the clusters of rock in the middle of the bay, and the view of our ship was quite stunning with its backdrop of the untouched mountainous white slopes of the Islands surrounding Discovery Bay. There was also one of those famed research bases at the other end of the bay. The Zodiac cruise was far too short, leaving us aching to get ashore. But that will have to wait for tomorrow.
After all on ship had had their Zodiac cruises, the captain upped anchor and we set sail. As the weather was fine and time permitted, it was possible to make a stop at Deception Island, so named because it looks like a cluster of Islands on approach. However as ships passed through the channel-like passage, sailors were greeted with still lake conditions. The Island is in fact an old non-active volcano crater, with only a narrow passage leading into the sea.
With sun still shining, it was easy to see why it was named Deception Island - it really does look like a system of islands, enormous in scale and with mountainous peaks. It's only the ash and larva-charred rock faces glistening in the late Antarctic sun that could suggest otherwise. I had to look at a map to really see what was going on!
There was an abundance of bird life and penguin colonies present on the island. For the last few days I had spotted a variety of different whale species (am a bit frustrated at not getting any shots of them!). As the captain turned our ship around and continued our journey along the Bransfield Strait there were a couple of whales swimming behind the ship. At this point I was at the front of the ship, but they were as clear as day, shooting spray metres into the air while they rolled over on the sea's surface. I couldn't see what whales they were but they must have been some of the bigger species. Every time they came to the surface for a breath their long, arched bodies cut through the waves, their rugby-ball sized and shaped blow holes propelling the ingested water from their previous dive far up into the horizon, with an ear-piercing sound fit only for these huge mammals of the sea. I could have run to the back of the boat to try and get a closer view or at least get one shot, but I thought I'd leave it to the rest of the paparazzi. I was just as happy to watch.
Full Photos on Flickr
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