Matt & Emmy in Antarctica & Easter Island travel blog

King Penguin at Salisbury Plain

Fur Seals

Wandering Albatross, stretching its wings

Emmy checking out Grytviken


We spent today visiting a variety of sites on the north coast of South Georgia Island. Our first stop was Salisbury Plain. We were greeted when we got off the Zodiacs in the surf by a beach full of fur seals, and just beyond tens of thousand (up to 100,000 pairs, we are told) of King Penguins.

The seals are our nemesis on this trip. While the babies are cute (and we saw a new pup who was probably less than a day old), the male fur seals are territorial and aggressive. We were taught to avoid them and watch them, because it is not unheard of for a fur seal to go after and bite a human if the seal felt threatened or if the human was in the male's territory. We have seen these seals all over in on South Georgia - apparently their population has soared in recent years. They are nasty and kind of frightening.

Once we ran the gauntlet of fur seals, we were treated to the amazing site of thousands of King Penguins. These are the second-biggest type of penguin (the Emperor Penguin is the only larger one). The penguins went on as far as the eye could see- blanketing the beach, the tussock grass above the beach, and wallowing in the mud and the surf. The penguins had no fear of humans and, indeed, seemed curious. When we sat down on the beach so as to be closer to their height, they waddle up to within 3-4 feet of us to check us out. It was amazing. The penguin colony had some type of organization known only to the penguins - there were 'highways' of penguins waddling to and fro. It was absolutely amazing to watch.

After Salisbury Plain, we moved on to an anchorage a few miles away to Prion Island. Again, we had to run the gauntlet of aggressive fur seals - in this case, the naturalists on the staff built a protective barrier of kayaks to help keep the seals away from our path up the beach. One seal attacked one of the kayaks and punctured it's rubber ladder. We climbed away from the beach and the seals to higher ground and got to see the nests of the wandering albatross, the sea bird whose wingspan (12 feet) is supposedly larger than any other bird. We saw one albatross, about a year old, practicing folding his wings out, so he could learn to fly. The weather all day was spectacular - temperatures in the 50s and 60s, high puffy clouds, and no rain.

Our last stop was Grytviken, an old whale station which is now the only occupied part of the island. The British Government has a small outpost here, mainly to run the post office, whose stamps generate a lot of revenue, and to operate the fishing patrol to collect fishing fees. There was also a small museum covering the history of whaling, the (largely Scandinavian) whalers who lived in Grytviken, and Earnest Shackleton. Schackleon was buried here at the request of his widow, and we all made a pilgrimage to his grave to salute "The Boss". All of the ship's crew and staff seemed genuinely impressed with and respectful to Shackleton.

In the evening, we had the entire population of Grytviken (about 20) on board for drinks and dinner. In addition to the British Government representative and the postmaster (his wife), we were joined by several scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and several workers doing repair and cleanup work.

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