Day 6 |
Nov 17, 2009

At Sea In The Southern Ocean, Shag Rocks And Elsehul (South Georgia)

By Rich Kirchner, General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 54°00.9S, 37°58.4W

Weather: Clear & Sunny, Calm Seas

This morning was an early one, out of bed at 5:15 am, and quickly up to the Observation Lounge for a cup of coffee and to see our distance from Shag Rocks. We had a little ways to go, so I could at least enjoy that first cup. By the time I had finished, a number of guests started showing up in the lounge and out on deck. I to headed outside and started looking for wildlife and enjoyed our approach to the “Rocks”. 

There were a number of birds flying around, including a snow petrel, the first of the trip. One of the guests said they thought a whale was in the distance at about eleven o’clock from the ship. It took a few minutes, but I finally saw the blow, far out toward the horizon. It was calm enough and clear enough to get a good look at the spout, which I soon identified as coming from a sperm whale. After it dove, I continued to look in that general direction, and soon was rewarded with seeing a southern right whale appear much closer to the ship. The guests, who numbered about fifty by now, got a good look at this massive animal with its V-shaped blow.

The ship sailed on past Shag Rocks, and we continued on our way to South Georgia and our afternoon entrance into Elsehul. I think everybody was getting very excited to arrive and start experiencing this magnificent area!

Later in the morning the rest of the Expedition Team and I had the duty of assisting the guests with cleaning their boots and outerwear in preparation for our arrival at South Georgia. Any seeds, grass or other alien material had to be thoroughly removed from anything that was going ashore with us during our visit. Foreign-species introduction has become a major concern on this isolated island.

Around about 4:30 pm we arrived at Elsehul and prepared for the late afternoon and evening activity – Zodiac cruising in this beautiful protected bay. My job was to ride with Robin, our Expedition Leader, to look for wildlife and do some natural history interpretation along the way. After loading twelve guests onboard our Zodiac, we headed off to explore the inner bay.

In a matter of minutes we were looking at macaroni penguins, fur seals and several species of albatross flying around and sitting on nests. Further on along our cruise there were king penguins loafing on the beaches, with groups of others in various stages of molting. The king is my favorite species of penguin, and it’s always good to return to one of their major breeding islands and spend time observing them.

The kings were not alone on the beaches however; there were plenty of male fur seals and a number of southern elephant seals on all of the beach areas. It’s mating season, and there is usually a lot of activity to watch at this time. I explained that the male fur seals were setting up territories and waiting for the females to show up in the next few weeks. Once that happens, there will be constant action among the seals, with mating and territorial disputes.

The elephant seals are a little ahead in their mating cycle, so I did see one of these massive males, up to five and a half tons, engaged with one of the females that recently had given birth. Both species of seals mate again soon after giving birth.

After another round of Zodiac cruises, we loaded the boats back on the ship and headed toward our destination for the following morning. A very good day all-in-all!