6 July 2018

"Atlantic Odyssey 2018" - Part 2 Exploring South Georgia

South Georgia

King Penguin - Aptenodytes patagonicus

We arrived at South Georgia after four full days at sea. 

This 170km-long island of spectacular mountains and bays was named and claimed for King George III by Captain James Cook when he landed in 1775.

Captain Cook was soon followed by whaling and sealing ships, and the early 19th century was a bad period for South Georgia wildlife, with both fur seals and penguins easily caught. It is estimated that by 1825 over 1.2 million Antarctic Fur Seals had been killed for their skins.

By the early 20th century the number of King Penguins had been reduced to only a few hundred individuals. Fortunately, the penguin population has recovered somewhat, and there are now 60,000 pairs of King Penguins near Salisbury Plain, where we landed on the morning of April 2nd, 2018.

King Penguins - Aptenodytes patagonicus

King Penguins - Aptenodytes patagonicus

A breezy four degrees Centigrade....

The conservation regulations dictate that visitors should not approach the penguins to within 10 metres, but if visitors stay still, the fearless penguins will walk right up to them. 

Jemi took the 360 camera (seen here on a stick) ashore.

Curious penguins

There were parading penguins all across the plain.

King Penguins - Aptenodytes patagonicus

King Penguins - Aptenodytes patagonicus

King Penguin - Aptenodytes patagonicus

King Penguin - Aptenodytes patagonicus

In the afternoon, we had a landing and a Zodiac Cruise around Prion Island, where Wandering and Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses breed, as well as Gentoo Penguins.

Prion Island, South Georgia

South Georgia Pipit - Anthus antarcticus

South Georgia Pintail - Anas (g) georgica

There were good numbers of South Georgia Pipits, too - a sign that a rat-eradication programme is having an effect.

The biggest King Penguin spectacle (120,000 pairs) is at St. Andrews Bay on South Georgia, and on April 3rd we arrived at dawn in clear weather. 

St Andrews Bay, South Georgia

More of the same ?  No, again the penguin spectacle was completely absorbing... 

King Penguins - Aptenodytes patagonicus
King Penguins - Aptenodytes patagonicus

King Penguins - Aptenodytes patagonicus

Elephant Seals - Mirounga leonina

The afternoon was spent at the former whaling station of Grytviken. Apart from the ruins, there is a museum, Post Office and Gift Shop.

Between 1904 and 1965 over 175,000 whales were “processed” at Grytviken.   The whaling business ceased only when there were no longer enough whales in the area to be caught profitably.  

Now, half a century later, the whale and seal populations are recovering slowly, but their populations are still a fraction of the numbers that existed around South Georgia before before humans arrived.

View from the graveyard, Grytviken

Wreck of a Whaling ship, Grytviken

Grytviken is also the starting and finishing point of Sir Ernest Shackleton's most famous expedition to Antarctica in 1914-16. He also died there in 1921. 

On a third and last morning at South Georgia we had high winds but clear skies. 

Plancius sailed slowly up Drygalski Fjord. (named after Professor Erich Von Drygalski, of the 1903-5 German Antarctic Expedition).

Chinstraps at Coopers Bay

Giant Petrel melee, Drygalski Fjord

South Georgia Shag, Drygalski Fjord

Terminal Glacier, Drygalski Fjord

South Georgia Diving-Petrel - Pelecanoides georgicus

Added 18 Aug 2018 from a comment by Johannes Fischer: - "That diving petrel is a Common Diving Petrel of the exsul subspecies. This subspecies can show the tramlines and the paler ear coverts, but the distribution of blue on the lower mandible as well as the bill shape gives this species away. Cheers!"

Clear but windy conditions were enjoyed all day, and a late afternoon Zodiac Cruise gave us plenty of photo opportunities.  

Macaroni Penguin - Eudyptes chysolophus

Antarctic Fur Seals - Arctocephalus gazella

South Georgia Pipit - Anthus antarcticus

Phil and Glenn

Antarctic Fur Seal - Arctocephalus gazella

Brief views were had of a Leopard Seal, in wait, perhaps for returning Chinstraps...

Leopard Seal
Chinstrap Penguins, Coopers Bay

South Georgia had a final surprise, in the shape of a Southern Right Whale that we stopped to look at as dusk was falling.

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale

So that was South Georgia.  We started in the west and ended near the east of the island, then began our journey northeast, towards Gough Island, five days away. 

(I realise this is the most "broad brush" of impressions; - Steve Smith has done a more detailed account on his blog here.)


  1. I am really happy to hear that the rat eradication programme is having positive results. This needs to be done in many other places too.....and while we’re at it rid other locations of feral pigs, cats, goats etc. A great series of images, John, on what was obviously an expedition delivering one superlative after another. When you are really old, and really decrepit, you will have enough memories from this one trip alone to see you through every day!

  2. Thanks, David... they got rid of South Georgia's Reindeer, but the rats were more difficult.

    Lots of memories from there....

  3. That diving petrel is a Common Diving Petrel of the exsul subspecies. This subspecies can show the tramlines and the paler ear coverts, but the distribution of blue on the lower mandible as well as the bill shape gives this species away. Cheers!

    1. Thanks Johannes...I'll include your correction in the main text....