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Day 7 - January 31, 2011 -  Salisbury plain and Fortuna Bay 

By by Claudia Holgate, Climatologist

 

Co-ordinates: 56º07’S, 36º48’W
Weather: overcast, misty with some rain in the morning, clearing up in the afternoon
Air Temperature: 4ºC
Pressure: 998Hp
Wind: 24km/h


Today was our first day in South Georgia and what a day it was. It may have been cold and rainy in the morning, but we didn’t have to get up early because another expedition ship, The Bremen was at the site that we were going to land at first and they completed their landing by 9am. Our first landing was at Salisbury Plain, one of the three spectacular King Penguin colonies on South Georgia. Due to the swell and rough surf conditions at our primary landing site we had to make use of a secondary site, which was very well protected, giving us a smooth ride into a place with fantastic glaciers coming down to the sea, and our very own welcoming party of fur seal pups.

South Georgia is well known for its large fur seal population, and although they can be quite aggressive, they don’t do much other than a few mock charges. Of course the pups think they are the size of elephant seals and give a good growl, even though they are all of 30cm long.

As we were at our secondary landing site, we had quite a hike through the tussock grasses, over rivers and along the beach, before we came across the King Penguin colony of approximately 200,000 Penguins. What a sight! But more so, what a sensory explosion. The sounds of so many penguins giving their contact calls and the chicks (which often look much larger than their parents with their down coats) squealing for food, was enough to give me goose bumps. We only had about 45 minutes at the colony before we had to head back for the landing site, which was about an hour’s walk away. Along the way, we had the chance to see two blond fur seals, which are very pale in colour, but not considered as albinos, as they still produce melanin. We also went past an elephant seal wallow with numerous female elephant seals giving us a good look.

Our fearless Expedition Team also found a young seal who had some plastic around his head, and two team members, Aiello and Luke, tackled the seal and managed to relieve him of the packing plastic, with no thought of their own safety (The bite of a fur seal can be very nasty).

Our plans for the afternoon included a landing at Prion Island to see the nesting Wandering Albatrosses, but the swell was still causing the landing site to be too rough and we had to look for an alternative. So it was decided to go for an excursion to Fortuna Bay where there is a nice walk through the fur seals and up to a smaller King Penguin colony. By now the weather had cleared and it had turned into a stunning afternoon, with little wind and patchy blue skies. On the way there though we had a quick Recap & Briefing as our landing was to finish at 7pm and we needed to be briefed for the next day. So within half an hour of lunch, the Expedition Team had put together many recaps on seals, dangers of plastics and waste to wildlife, early explorers to the area, Skuas and Giant Petrels and the breeding cycles of King Penguins – not bad for short notice.

Our second landing at Fortuna Bay was a great success, with everybody enjoying the walk and the fact that there were fewer restrictions than in the morning, so everyone could stop and photograph the wildlife and spectacular scenery at their leisure and walk as far and as fast as they pleased. So a truly stunning day and proof again why South Georgia is one of my favourite places on earth.

 

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