Well not really…
We paid a visit to Deception Island and things did not go as planned. Luckily they turned out well enough in the end and that is all that matters.
Deception Island is a partially sunken active volcano. It is possible to sail right into the active caldera through a narrow passage called Neptune’s Bellows. That was the plan at the start of the day. The island is so popular with tourists and researchers a like that the number of boats at any specific site is limited to 1. We were third in the queue to enter the caldera and visit it’s 2 open beaches. So we gave the “inner sanctum” a miss and instead went to a HUGE chin strap colony on the outside called Bailey Head.
By now you must be a little bit jaded by penguins, but I am telling you this place is special! Our landing was a little bit adventurous. We did a stern (or rescue landing) where our expert zodiac handlers threw an anchor off the bow and let the stern drift close to shore. Then as the wave was bringing us in (but not too far thanks to the anchor) we flung ourselves out of the boat and raced the wave up the beach.
Penguins on the beach had either just returned from a feed….
or were headed out to get some tasty krill.
To travel between the beach and the colony, the penguins had to take the penguin highway.
Now with all of those penguins on the penguin highway, you must be wondering about the colony proper.
The colony is essentially a moss covered amphitheater. The picture above is showing part of one side of the bowl. The penguins prefer the “nose bleed seats.” Some of the nests are nearly a mile and a half away from the ocean and involve a pretty steep vertical climb. I was huffing and puffing by the time we got to the top of one ridge. Never doubt that chinstraps are mountain goats!
While there were clearly a “poop ton” (the official scientist term for a whole lot) of penguins at Bailey Head doing their utmost to make more penguins, you couldn’t help but feel that the place was a little bit empty. In fact the colony has experienced a 50% decline in the last 30 years. It seems that chinstraps through out the Western Antarctic Peninsula are in decline.
How can we help the chinstraps recover? Well no one really knows the answer to that. The population decline has coincided with rapidly warming temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula. No doubt, the chinstraps’ main prey species, krill, is struggling in the warmer waters. Chinstraps too are struggling with increased rain and snow. Penguin chicks, still in their fluffy down, are not meant to get wet. A wet fluffy chick is a cold fluffy chick, and a cold fluffy chick doesn’t survive for long. It rained so often while I was in the Peninsula region that I stopped counting. It is not supposed to rain in Antarctica, or at least it hasn’t rained so much until very recently (in evolutionary time scales).