With phenergan in my system I am starting to cope much better with sea days and on the second day we start to see some wildlife. We spot a Southern Right Whale that briefly appears off the starboard side of the ship, but too briefly for me to capture. We spot a fur seal out at sea and in the afternoon we first catch sight of land when we near Shag Rocks, a couple of rocky outcrops in the middle of the ocean. We also start seeing the odd gentoo penguin, porpoising through the water. Penguins may not be able to fly, but they make a fine attempt at it when in the water!
When we wake in the morning, we see the coastline of South Georgia, which is spectacular with its mountain ranges and glaciers dipping down into the ocean. The clouds still cover most of the peaks, but occasionally swirl away to reveal some spectacular mountains.
Our first port of call on South Georgia is Fortuna Bay, which is home to a king penguin rookery, promising a fun morning. We land with zodiacs in the midst of elephant seal pups, called weaners, and Antarctic fur seals, who can be quite aggressive towards us intruders. This is our first experience dealing with them and we have been duly warned by the expedition staff to be very careful around them.
From the landing site we walk about a mile to a higher point from where we can look out over the penguin rookery. Our path there is an obstacle course in avoiding getting too close to penguins, not mistaking elephant seals for rocks, and dodging the territorial Antarctic fur seals. Seriously, the elephant seals are so massive that it is often easy to mistake them for a very large boulder, until you get the close and the boulder starts roaring at you, which is usually followed by the person making a quick scramble out of the danger zone, only to land in another one.
When we get to the vantage point above the rookery, we see thousands of penguins, gorgeously glossy adults and brown fluffy chicks who still have to lose their coat. There are also moulting penguins, who look like dishevelled old men with bits of fluff sticking to them in irregular fashion. The image of Roman emperors hard on their luck is hard to shake.
After a while we notice a commotion amongst the penguins a bit further out and through my zoom lens I can see an obviously sick penguin chick that is being attacked by a giant petrel, who is pecking at it. The chick’s mother tries to defend its offspring, but the petrel is soon joined by a second petrel and together they lurch at the chick, which has now fallen over, starting to tear at it. Occasionally the chick still raises itself, but soon it is done for and the petrels rip into it, staining their beaks with its blood. It is not a pretty sight, but it is nature taking its course. I am somewhat surprised at how cool and detached I am watching the drama unfold through the lens. The photo below shows the mother defending the chick one final time. Note how none of the other penguins, adult or chick, are looking at the ghastly scene. It’s as if they’re pretending it’s not happening. Even the mother eventually turns her eyes away when the two petrels really get going with their killing.
After a while on the outcrop, we slowly wander back to the zodiac landing site, taking in the wonderful scenery and wildlife which surrounds us. Penguins stand in streams to cool their feet; they walk in groups; elephant seals bellow and fart and the wearers sneeze, with most of them affected by a mite in their noses, resulting in white mucus staining their faces.
I simply can’t get enough of it. There are fur seals with tiny little pups, just a few days old, nursed by their mothers. Male fur seals stand guard and the enormous and indescribable elephant seals, stretched out, and seemingly asleep, always keep an eye on where you are moving. Despite their size, they are fast movers if they want to.
Eventually it is time to return to the ship, with more inclement weather starting to set in. It has been a wonderful morning and a magical introduction to South Georgia. It’s hard to believe I am finally here.