Day 10 |
Mar 10, 2010

South Georgia (Gold Harbour Am, Departure 10 Am)

By Juan Mazar Barnett, General Naturalist / Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: Latitude: 54º37.4’S - Longitude:  035º56.3’W

Weather:  slightly cloudy am

Seas: fairly calm landing am

Temperature: 3 C

Today we had our first really early start of the voyage. Breakfast was served from 5 am in the Panorama Lounge. And what was the reason for this? Our planned landing in Gold Harbour, a place that our guests had been highly praised in the previous briefing as a truly fantastic site and a favourite of most staff members!

I got on the first Zodiac with some of the other members of the Expedition Team. The weather did not look too good. It was quite cloudy and a bit foggy and there was a slight drizzle. But considering that, we were still in South Georgia we expected it to get like this at some point! We did have amazing weather so far.

Soon after we arrived the first two groups of guests arrived and everyone confirmed what Robin said the night before. Gold Harbour was really something! The first thing myself and then guests noted was a pile of about twenty male Elephant Seals (quite literally a pile!). They were not full adults but a few had a more prominent "snorter" and those were the ones that clearly won every time there was trouble among them. Since they were moulting their fur, they tucked together to keep warm and doze during this process. I was appointed to make sure none of the guests trespassed the safety boundary that would disturb these giants. I thus marked a line on the sandy beach but it kept getting trampled by King Penguins so I had to re-draw it a few times.

Our landing spot was full of wildlife besides the Elephant Seals and the ubiquitous Antarctic Fur Seals. King Penguins thrived in loose groups, all in tidy freshly moulted plumage, with a few groups of moulting birds looking grim. Gentoo Penguins were present too, in much lower numbers, and a lone Chinstrap was seen too. Among the birds, everyone got the chance to see the Snowy Sheathbills and some of us saw it honouring one its nick names: "poo-bird!" But the real thrill came when we approached the main colony of King Penguins and the hundreds of them standing on the beach with a fantastic glacier background.

Another highlight of today was a friendly Elephant Seal pup that – for the amusement of everybody – became very fond of our emergency gear, four large rubber bags that were laid on the beach. After testing most of the rest of the landing gear, it finally decided to take a nap among our emergency equipment. So it did until we had to leave. We took away the bags and all the creature did was wake up and yawn. But a few minutes later, back it came and tried again to find a resting place among the same equipment. That was, no doubt, one of the most photographed Elephant Seals in South Georgia!

By 10 am all guests and staff were back on board the Prince Albert II and soon after that we heard the announcement that it was sensibly decided to leave South Georgia. We thus started our cruising due west to avoid some harsh weather conditions that were coming our way. We had a relaxed lunch, and enjoyed two of the lectures though quite a few guests did so from their cabins! Later on I headed to the Bridge of the Prince Albert II and got fantastic views of Diving Petrels. To my amazement I realised that these mighty tiny birds were flying side by side with the Prince Albert II, which was doing 7.5 Kn at the time, and facing front winds of 35 Kn!!

Today was the perfect farewell to this fantastic corner of planet Earth, where we couldn’t have asked for much more from our visit!