To the north of the Antarctic Peninsula lie the South Shetland Islands – the first land reached when sailing south across the Drake Passage from Ushuaia. The small, semi-circular Deception Island is one of the smaller islands but has much to excite the interest of travellers to the region. The whole island is actually the top of a submerged volcano - one of the few calderas in the world that it’s possible to sail a ship into.
Entering the narrow channel which marks the only sailable route into the caldera, it’s immediately apparent that the sleeping volcano offers one of the safest and most sheltered harbours in the area. Protected from wind by the slopes of the volcano’s protruding summit, this place attracted sealers and whalers in the early 1900s. Evidence of the barbaric whaling industry is immediately obvious at Whalers Bay; large rusting iron tanks and boilers rise out of the desolate beach and the crumbling remains of wooden boats and huts provide a perch for scavenging brown skuas.
The bay once served as a whaling station to support the activities of factory whaling ships. The huge carcases were brought ashore to be boiled down to release the precious whale oil which was stored in the tanks. A dramatic fall in the price of whale oil led to the station becoming uneconomically viable and it was finally abandoned in 1931.
Today, the island supports a strong population of chinstrap penguins and provides a sheltered spot for resting seals to haul themselves ashore. The volcano’s last big eruption was in 1969 – an eruption which buried the whalers’ graveyard. Evidence of this dormant volcano’s activity lies just below the surface; dig a few inches into the shingle on the shore and there is a noticeable rise in the water temperature. Many people choose to go for a polar swim here due to the relatively ‘warm’ waters – but it’s an activity that’s not for the faint-hearted!