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Day 9 - March 17, 2010 - South Georgia

By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 54° 37 ’S – 35° 56’W (Gold Harbour)
Weather:  partly cloudy
Air temperature: 3° C

South Georgia’s dramatic snow-covered peaks lay outside our windows this morning. We had arrived! The jagged mountains rose sharply from the sea, and the view was splendid.

Since we had made such good progress with our crossing, we had a bit of extra time to play with, and our Captain and Expedition Leader Robin decided to give us a little ship cruise of a place on the south coast called Smaaland Cove. A tiny little protected bay surrounded by steep glacier walls that is virtually unknown by other ships and with no soundings seemed like a serious challenge for the bridge team. But not with this Captain in charge who had been in there before and calmly and easily maneuvered the Prince Albert II through the narrow gap. We saw gentoo penguins, macaroni penguins, fur seals and elephant seals on the shore and in the tussock grass and in the clear blue water below. It was a beautiful place and we all stood on deck taking in the sights and the sounds.

After lunch we arrived at our destination of Gold Harbour. One of the most scenic landing sites in all of South Georgia, it did not disappoint us today. The swell coming in to the harbour was quite big and the katabatic winds were very fierce. We could see the huge surf breaking on the beach and were not initially sure the landing would be possible. But a scout boat was sent to shore and conditions were seen to be suitable to start.

Everyone got a good sea-water soaking on the Zodiac ride to the beach as the winds were chopping the water into frothy waves and spray. But it was well worth getting wet for. On shore, thousands of king penguins wandered around on the beach. Massive piles of elephant seals lay in wallows near our landing site. And fur seals ran in all directions. A massive glacier dripped over the rocky peaks just behind the penguin colony. It was hard to know where to look first.

Since there was so much wildlife on shore it was impossible to walk very far, but walking wasn’t on anyone’s minds with so much to see. The beautiful and inquisitive king penguins slowly and cautiously wandered up to everyone for closer inspection and to pose for photos. The fur seals growled and tried to chase off everyone they encountered although ran away quickly when confronted by clapping hands. The elephant seals were oblivious to everything – some massive males lay in a wallow molting. Other younger seals slept peacefully on the sand, undisturbed. Others fought amongst themselves, testing their strength against each other for the day when they would be mature and would have to fight seriously for dominance on the beach. Giant petrels wandered in between, while small white sheathbills darted around looking for anything edible. Some skuas circled the king penguins that were sitting on eggs, and one did successfully fly off with a penguin egg which it dropped only a few feet beyond the scene of the crime in order to devour the contents. The sun came out, the wind stopped blowing so fiercely, and everyone agreed that it was a magnificent spot.

Not at all a bad first landing in South Georgia!

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