Our activity on our first day at South Georgia has been largely ruled by the weather. In our briefing last night, our expedition leader told us that the ‘wind map’ he receives each day by satellite was showing that at our proposed landing site, winds could be up to 30 knots by late morning. This would make landing at one of the most photogenic places on Georgia virtually impossible. He wanted to determine overnight which of several options to would be the best.
Graeme, our NZ expedition leader’s call over the PA at 5.00 this morning, told us that the wind was calm and we would leave the ship for our first landing at 5.45 am. This was to be in the Bay of Isles at Salisbury Plain – the home of one of the largest King Penguin colonies in the world. It was foggy and drizzling with rain, so we had all our wet weather gear on and headed off in our zodiacs. We landed at a surf beach which would have been an horrendous place to land and depart if the waves were high. This is why we had such an early start.
We were about a kilometre from the shore and when we landed, we found ourselves right in the middle of thousands of King Penguins along the beach. So much for the 5 metre rule! All we could do was walk slowly and try to create as little disturbance as we could. There were some great photo opportunities especially if you knelt down, or lay down on your tummy to take low levels shots. King Penguins are beautiful birds. Their black head, red beak, golden flash on the side of their head and throat, along with their stippled solver back and white body make them look stunning. They stand about 80 to 90 centimetres tall.
Along the beach were also a number of Antarctic Fur Seals. They are a lot smaller in size that the seals we see in Victoria. Their young are gorgeous little fluffy creatures with beautiful big eyes. If the weather were dry, they would look much more cute, but as it was in the drizzle, they looked very wet and bedraggled. Every now and then was the body of a dead seal cub who had not been able to find its mother and died through lack of food.
When I stood on the beach, I could see a sea of penguins in both directions that stretched for a kilometre of where I was standing. The main colony would have been 500 metres wide and stretched inland for over a kilometre. There are over 100,000 breeding pairs here. It is just a stunning site.
We were back on the ship, wet and a little cold, by 9.00 am. Then it was time for a late breakfast as the ship moved just a couple of kilometres along the coast. Then it was time for our second outing not the day to Prion Island. We anchored about 2 kilometres offshore and travelled across to the island in zodiacs over large swells that were well over a metre high. It was raining constantly throughout our time away from the ship (2 hours) and I couldn’t help but think how toughie must have been for Shackleton to have been in seas as many times higher and for 18 days on his epic trip from Elephant Island to Georgia.
This island has two claims to fame. Firstly, it s the home of the Prion Pipit ( a very non descript little bird, that is in fact Antarctica’s only songbird, Big Deal! From my point of view,the second point is more significant. It is tone of the few nesting places for the Wandering Albatross. These birds are becoming very rare because they get caught in the lines of long-line fishing boats. Their worldwide population is declining at about 5% per year. About 60 birds nest here at this island. However, by the time that we had come ashore and climbed ti boardwalk to their nesting ground, we were so wet that our cameras had fogged up and refused to focus. I don’t have any photos of these giant birds with a wing span of over 3 metres.
We reached the shore after navigating through some thick beds of giant kelp. On the rocks around the rocks around the island were hundreds of fur seals. They seemed to be very playful, popping up in many places, having a look, and then diving to pop up some where else. Amongst then were a few white one, their pale colour formed by recessive genes that left them with blond fur, rather than dark fur. We also saw a couple of Elephant Seals.
We were back tab the ship by about 3.00pm for a cup of afternoon tea. Since then, our ship has sailed onwards a little to Possession Bay, where some of us have gone zodiac cruising. This bay was discovered and named by Captain Cook on his second voyage in 1775 when he landed and hoisted the British flag. It is a broad bay with three, or more significant glaciers flowing down from the mountains behind.
I’m looking forward to our recap of the day at 6.30 pm to find out just where we will be heading tomorrow.