This is our last day in South Georgia before we head down to Antarctica.
We were awake at 6.00 am this morning for an early call to go out in Zodiacs before the wind picked up to go to Gold Harbour where there were thousands of King Penguins on the long strip of beach. There were some Gentoo Penguins as well. These are a little smaller with a bright red beak and a white patch on their heads. We could smell ‘essence of penguin’ from a long way off the shore.
More interesting were the twenty or so elephant seals that were hauled up on the beach. These were young males. Like walrus, they were all lying in close body contact, except for some sporadic times they would test their strength with each other in some combative behaviour. This resulted in them rearing upwards chest to chest and growling a each other with deep rumbling gurgles and growls. When they are adult and defending a harem of females on the beach as ‘beach masters’ their behaviour will be much more aggressive. Some will even die in competitive fights over mating rights.
Back on the ship, our expedition leader Graeme, gave us a very amusing description of these large seals lining up to forty females side by side along the beach and then working hard to protect then from being seduced away by other males who would work their way towards the end of the line. Thinking of a fat blubber tube of elephant seal rushing demo one end to another of a line of females would be something to see.
While we were watching the seals and the penguins, were were also having to avoid hundreds of fur seals who also occupied the beach. The young ones would bound up to us in an inquisitive manner which at times appeared aggressive to check us out. A clap of our hands was enough to scare most of them away, but some needed a further kick of sand towards them. Our ships doctor suffered a nip on his leg from an over aggressive youngster.
We were back on the ship by 9.30 am for a late breakfast. By 12.00, the ship had moved around to a small bay named Cooper Bay and we set off again in zodiacs, this time to see Macaroni Penguins. These are tufted penguins with yellow feathers jutting out above their head like some old men’s eyebrows. The early explorers though that they looked like the hats of old Italian soldiers. During this outing, the weather became quite marginal. The temperature had dropped to about 1 degree, it was snowing and the sea swell had risen t about 1.5 metres. We only caught a glimpse of some of the penguins as we were tossed around by the swell along the shoreline.
We get on and off the zodiacs via the gangway which is lowered to just above the waterline. At the bottom is a small platform a little over a metre square. A burley Russian sailor stands on this platform wearing waders and a life vests and helps us transfer to and from the zodiacs. I noticed when we returned to the ship from Cooper Bay, that the swell dropped as low as a metre under the platform and then rose to over the sailor’s knees. This was an occasion when we had to time our step from the zodiac to the gangway very carefully.
This afternoon, we sailed up the Drygalski Fjord. This was a stunning fjord with five or six late glaciers on either side (and, obviously, at the head) of the fjord. I spent the time on the top deck with Peter & Julian, two british geologists, relearning my knowledge of geography and geomorphology from my school days.
Dinner tonight is at 7.30 pm and by then we will have set sail for Antarctica which will mean that our next two days will be at sea.