We worked our way along the north shore of South Georgia Island. There are no permanent inhabitants. About six people are there in the winter, mostly researchers, and about 30 people in the spring/summer, not counting travelers like us.
The island has been a great ecological success story lately. There were whaling stations on the island in years past. The whaling ships brought rats which decimated some of the bird population. South Georgia Island is managed by the Falklands Island government. Working with a conservation group, they embarked one of the largest scale eradication effort ever attempted. At this point, they think they’ve eliminated the rats and have already seen bird populations rebounding!
To avoid creating invasive plant species, we decontaminated our outer clothing and boats in the “mud room” before arriving and then as we moved from spot to spot. Our landings were all wet landings in zodiacs, in other words, no piers. You just roll off into a foot of water. We had about 80 passengers on our ship so getting off and on wasn’t a problem.
The absolute highlight was two King Penguin colonies totaling almost a half million penguins. Different species of penguins can have very different nesting cycles. The King Penguins take 12-13 months to raise their chicks and can nest throughout the year. The young are called “oakum boys”. Here’s the first colony:
There were lots of fur seals and elephant seals too.
Plus some other new birds for us. We had both Antarctic Terns and also Arctic Terns in non-breeding plumage (white on the foreheads) who travelled down all the way from Greenland and Iceland, about 11,000 miles one way. The South Georgia Pipit is the southernmost songbird in the world.
We continued on to Stromness Bay and later Grytviken Bay, both important in the 100 year centennial of the Sir Edward Shackleton rescue story, one of the most dramatic ever. He led an expedition to cross Antarctica in 1916. Their ship became icebound right at the beginning and broke up. The whole crew made it to Elephant Island in Antarctica with no hope of rescue. Shackleton and five crew members reinforced a lifeboat (the J. Caird replica is pictured below) and sailed 900 miles to reach South Georgia Island where they knew there was a whaling station.
It was an incredible feat of death-defying navigation. When they landed on South Georgia Island, they had to cross over to the east side across a mountain range. To celebrate the centennial, Lindblad Expeditions brought two ships, ours, the Explorer, and the Orion. The Orion had Peter Hillary and Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the sons of the first people to ascend Mt. Everest, on board. With a few other people over 36 hours, they reenacted Shackleton’s climb across the island.
Both ships met at Stromness Bay, had a party, then Peter and Jamling rode our ship back giving several talks. We ate several lunch and dinners with them, some of which were delightful raucous fun. They are both really fine people.
Walking in the valley at Stromness Bay. We had to stay 200 meters away from the old whaling station because of asbestos contamination.
At Godthul Bay while climbing up and down the tussock grass covered bluffs, we had a little excitement. One of the ladies on the trip fractured her foot and had to be carried down.
At St. Andrews Bay, we went to the second King Penguin colony. I still have the penguin poop stains on my camera backpack.
Here’s a video so you can hear what life’s like in a penguin colony:
Life and Sounds in a King Penguin Colony
On the way to Grytviken Bay, we passed by a glacier (pronounced “glass – ier” by Peter and Jamling who are from New Zealand and Nepal respectively and who have both climbed Mt. Everest on their own) and a pair of humpback whales.
Grytviken Bay was the location of another larger old whaling station, a small museum, the nearest thing to a settlement on South Georgia Island, and Sir Edward Shackleton’s gravesite where we all offered a toast of Scottish malt whiskey to “The Boss”.
On to our last landfall on South Georgia Island at Elsehul Bay to photograph Gray-headed and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Kathleen did the zodiac trip throughout the bay while I climbed the tussock grass covered bluffs overlooking the bay.
On the way home, we stopped for one half day at Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
It was a great trip. Kathleen and I had a wonderful time. And during the rougher weather at sea, it was certainly reassuring to be on a solid, well built ship. Lindblad Expeditions does a great job and I’d highly recommend them.