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Deception Island is considered by many to be one of the world's most incredible islands. Found in the South Shetland Islands, which are located off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, this volcanic landmass boasts quite an interesting landscape. Thanks to the volcanic nature of the island, it is less covered in snow than the bulk of the area landmasses, and you can actually take a natural steam bath here if you please! The steaming beaches are an interesting complement to the ash-layered glaciers, and austere volcanic slopes help to make for a unique setting. The flooded caldera that lies in the center of this horseshoe-shaped island is sheltered, helping to make it one of the safest bays in the South Shetland Islands. You might be interested to know that Deception Island is one of the only places in the world where ships can sail into the heart of an active volcano.
Deception Island was formed by volcanic activity, and its name refers to the small entrance that provides passage to its flooded, central caldera. If you're not lined up with the small pass that leads to the interior, you'll have to sail around the island until you find it, which can be deceptive. While you can still find research stations on the island, the 1967 and 1969 volcanic eruptions did much to dissuade researches to set up base here. Spain and the Argentine Army run the research bases that can be found here. Before the arrival of research stations, Deception Island was primarily used as a point of refuge for sailors. Seal and whale hunters most commonly sought refuge at Deception Island, and while this industry was king for quite some time, it is now extinct. The Great Depression had a lot to do with the abandonment of seal and whale hunting in the South Shetland Islands.
Swimming in Pendulum Cove is one of the top things to do on a visit to Deception Island, thanks to the thermal waters, so don't forget to bring a bathing suit with you on your visit. One of the other top things to do here is view penguins. Chinstrap penguins call the island home, and they are noted for the narrow black bands that essentially frame their faces. Deception Island cruises are easier than ever to book, and more and more Antarctica visitors are choosing to include this fascinating island on their itineraries. While the beaches here might not seem as inviting as beaches in tropical destinations, they can be very attractive to those who are looking for a break from cold temps and layers of warm clothing. You might have to dig a hole in the sand at places like Pendulum Cove, but the work will surely be worth it, as you'll get to enjoy what basically amounts to your own natural sauna.
Deception Island cruises are usually extended cruises that include other destinations in Antarctica. Most of the tourist cruise ships that visit the island will also stop at other South Shetland Islands, such as Elephant Island and Livingston Island. The relatively strange landscape of Deception Island helps to make it stand out, as does its relatively large number of penguins. It's definitely the best place to go swimming in the Antarctic region, which is part of the reason why so many cruise ships stop here.
Deception Island has become a popular tourist stop in Antarctica because of its several colonies of chinstrap penguins, as well as the novel possibility of making a warm bath by digging into the sands of the beach. Mount Flora is the first site in Antarctica where fossilized plants were discovered.

After the Norwegian Coastal Cruise Liner MS Nordkapp ran aground off the coast of Deception Island on 30 January 2007, fuel from the ship washed into a bay. Ecological damage has not yet been determined. On 4 February 2007 the Spanish Gabriel de Castilla research station on Deception Island reported that water and sand tests were clean and that they had not found signs of the oil, estimated as 500 to 750 litres (130 to 200 US gallons; 110 to 160 imperial gallons) of light diesel. Deception Island exhibits some wildly varying microclimates. Some water temperatures reach 70 °C (158 °F). Near volcanic areas, the air can be as hot as 40 °C (104 °F).
During the 1940s and '50s, Argentina, Chile, and Britain squabbled for sovereignty of Deception Island. Fearing a German incursion of Antarctica, and wary of Argentina's sympathies toward Germany, the British took over the old whaling station in 1944, dumped the Argentine flags they found there, and hoisted the Union Jack. The Germans never came, but the British takeover of the whaling site did provoke Argentina and Chile to establish bases nearby.
Volcanic eruptions forced the abandonment of the British base in 1969. (A detail worth noting: Deception Island is an active volcano.) Today the island is a tourist destination and the location for summertime scientific research by Spain and Argentina. (The Antarctic Treaty System keeps things nice and civil between nations.) Visit and you can see tens of thousands of chinstrap penguins, as well as rusting relics of the whaling era. You'll also be able to experience one of life's stranger sensations: a thermal bath on an Antarctic beach. Due to its volcanic status, Deception Island has heat hidden in its black sand beaches. Dig a hole and you can sit in steam while your toes freeze.
Flora & Fauna
This is one of the best places in the Antarctic to see Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica). In fact, Deception Island is home to over 100,000 breeding pairs of Chinstraps, located at Baily Head (62°58'S, 60°30'W), on the south-west coast of the island which makes it the largest Chinstrap colony in the world. Gentoo penguins, giant petrels, Wilson petrels, skuas, Blue-eyed shags and Antarctic fur seals are among the other fauna you can observe and if you're lucky, you may also see southern elephants seals!!
Recorded terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates on Deception Island include 18 species of Acarina (mite), 1 species of Diptera (fly), 3 species of Tardigrada (tardigrade), 9 species of Collembola (springtail), 3 freshwater Crustacea (crustacean), 14 Nematoda (nematode), 1 Gastrotricha (gastrotrich) and 5 Rotifera (rotifer).
Eight species of bird breed within the Area. The most numerous is the chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica), with an estimated 140,000 to 191,000 breeding pairs. The largest rookery is at Baily Head, with an estimated 100,000 breeding pairs. Macaroni penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus) occasionally nest in small numbers on the island, their southernmost breeding limit. Brown skuas (Catharacta antarctica lonnbergi), kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus), cape petrels (Daption capensis), Wilson’s storm-petrels (Oceanites oceanicus), Antarctic terns (Sterna vittata) and snowy sheathbills (Chionis alba) also breed within the Area.
Mammals - Deception Island has no breeding mammals. Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella), Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddelli), crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophagus), southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) and leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) haul out on the beaches of the inner and outer coast.
The flora in this area is very important and includes at least 18 species of moss or lichen that have not been recorded elsewhere in the Antarctic, 2 of which are endemic. Of particular importance are the unique plant communities that grow at the island's geothermal areas, and the largest known community of Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis). Eleven sub-sites of botanical importance have been proposed as Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) No. 140.
The benthic habitat of Port Foster is also of ecological interest due to the natural disturbance caused by volcanic activity. Two sub-sites are currently protected as ASPA No. 145.
When planning Deception Island cruises, you're bound to notice that the South Shetland Islands aren't always the only islands that you'll be able to visit. Many ships also stop at the South Orkneys, South Georgia Island, and the Falklands. You might also notice that many Cruise lines that visit this region start in Ushuaia Argentina, which is among the top jump-off points for Antarctica vacations. Be sure to keep a look out for whales, dolphins, birds, and other creatures when passing through Drake Passage on your way to Deception Island!

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