Day 7 |
Dec 25, 2010

 Godthul and Grytviken, South Georgia 

By by Marylou Blakeslee, General Naturalist


Co-ordinates: 54 17’S 36 18’W, 54 15’S 36 45’W
Weather: a little sun, a little wind, a little rain
Air Temperature: 45F

“And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun.” - John Lennon

Our Christmas day began early, in the bay of Godthul, which is Norwegian for “good cove”. On the north coast of South Georgia, its history of whaling and sealing lays rusting on the beach. Large rusty barrels accompany whale and seal bones strewn along the shore.

I loaded my Zodiac with excited guests and we began an hour and a half odyssey of Godthul and Cobblers Cove. I watched fur seals climb, wrestle, bite, rest, climb, wrestle, bite, rest and always whimper in their insatiable desire to wrestle and bite some more. Tiny black fur seal pups gathered in groups watching out for the large bull fur seals that easily trample them in their fights for territory. King penguins stood amidst the chaos, seemingly aloof. Their beautiful plumage and erect stance give them a stately, distinguished appearance. Then I noticed something moving on the tops of the green slopes. There before my eyes was a huge herd of reindeer. We all decided that Santa’s furry helpers were here feeding after a long nights work.

The tree kelp was thick in both coves and I had to reverse the engine from time to time to free us from kelp entrapment.

After a thorough investigation of Godthul, we headed out onto the larger swells of the sea and watched Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross soar over the cliffs of folded geologic history. The rock stripes stood out clearly along the water.

It was only a few minutes before we were in Cobblers Cove. A tiny entrance hid the larger bay, which echoed with the screeches of even more fur seals. Elephant seals in wallows rolled over from time to time while the fur seals continued their antics. A couple of Gentoo penguins came to shore directly next to a couple of resting King penguins. Here I was able to point out the second and third largest penguin species standing side by side.

Our time was almost up when I spotted a newborn pup with its mother. The placenta was right next to them and we knew the pup was only a few hours old, if that. Within moments, a skua found the placenta, dragged it away from the seals and spread its wings in a full display, proud of its newly found treasure.

Our afternoon was spent at Grytviken. The name of this place is as famous today as it was among whaling and sealing captains around the globe. A tiny cemetery holds the remains of a big leader, Earnest Shackleton. Tradition holds that a toast be given to “the Boss” when visiting his grave and a bit of rum be extended to him too. Far be it for us to break tradition.

The Grytviken Museum offers one of the best glimpses into the life of whalers and sealers. The remains of that trade are as impressive to see as they are startling in their brutality. I climbed the hill behind the station and looked down at the tiny enclave on one side and the small fresh water ponds on the other. Behind us the snow-capped peaks and glacier-filled valleys of the mountains of South Georgia loomed.

Descending the slopes gave me just enough time to step inside the small chapel where Shackleton had his funeral service, as did many of the whalers of time gone by. It is a precious chapel where I gave thanks for this amazing life.

Then it was time to re-board the Prince Albert II for a seven-course Christmas dinner!
Merry Christmas to you all.