We have arrived at South Georgia and there is a great sense of excitement in the air at breakfast, despite the fact our pre-breakfast cruise could not go ahead. South Georgia was one of the first gateways to Antarctica and was the centre of the whaling industry from the early 1900’s to the 1960’s. It is a rugged remote place, teeming with life. Cook made the first landing here in 1775 and claimed and named it for His Majesty! Here’s what he said:
“savage and horrible, the wild rocks raised their lofty summits until they were lost in the clouds ,and the valleys lay covered in everlasting snow. Not a tree was to be seen, not a shrub even big enough to make a toothpick”.
We were not able to do our 6am cruise because it was just too choppy to launch the zodiacs. This is what an expedition to Antarctica is all about. The weather dictates everything and we have learnt to go with the flow.
However, we line up expectantly at the gangway after breakfast. Angela and I are first in line, completely optimistic that we will be able to go, so when they announce on the PA system they are ready to load the zodiacs, we are able to set off before most of the passengers have even reached the mud room! The mud room is where we don our life vests and boots and clean our boots after each excursion.
We are given a briefing about the landing and how we must act around both the fur and elephant seals who are quite aggressive at this time of year, as it is the breeding season. The bulls come ashore, set up their territories and mate with as many cows as possible. A Southern Elephant seal can have as many as 70 cows! Yes, its a man’s world even out here :)South Georgia is also home to about 4 species of penguins and they include the King, Gentoo, Macaroni and Chinstrap. It is another wet landing and we make our way cautiously between the breeding fur seals on the beach. I encounter aggressive seals for the first time and realise how careful we need to be. I am in David’s group and he leads us through the colony to an area where we can relax, take photos and observe both the seals and penguins at leisure, always keeping an eye open for aggressive seals. All too soon it is time to head back. It is an incredible experience to be in a place that is truly wild. There are so few places like this anywhere else in the world. A place where now these animals are completely protected. It is hard to imagine the slaughter of seals and whales that went on last century in these parts, but then our children’s children will reflect on our lives and wonder how we could have drained the planet of so many resources too! Just ponder this. It took 50 million year for whales to evolve. It took us just 60 years to bring them close to extinction!
I feel thrilled to be in a place where few people visit and that is so pristine. As we leave, I remember the words of Graham, our Expedition Leader. Make sure you tread lightly, so your children’s children can enjoy this experience too.