What a follow up to yesterday’s incredible day here on the Isle of Georgia!
Those of us brave enough, and willing to take the risk, fell out of bed close to 04.30 hours and stumbled into the Ice Lounge for an urgent cup of strong coffee and some delicious freshly baked pastries and/or sandwiches before stumbling down to get on all those layers.
Soon we were headed for the hugely overcrowded beach at Gold Harbour. Wherever one looked there were nothing but southern elephant seals; pups, weaners, mums and bulls. We saw bulls of all sizes, from large to humongous. A little farther, we could discern many thousands of king penguins.
Behind the ship, a band of clear sky took on the first warm colors of the new day. Slowly, the sky took on more colors and for a brief fifteen minutes, everything lit up with gorgeous pastel yellows, oranges and pale reds. What a glorious sight. We were all now thoroughly awake and open mouthed at such an overload for our senses. What a privilege to be witnesses to such indescribable beauty and such a bonanza of wildlife.
The elephant seals took up much of our attention as the mums suckled their young. The huge males were ever attentive to any advances from male outliers – and there were many – who often tried to sneak off and mate with a female. Invariably this elicited an immediate response from the alpha male. More often than not a simple roar would suffice to ward off the intruder, if not, a charge would be enough. If that failed, then they would rise up and tower over each other, grunting and roaring whilst banging into each other’s necks and trying to bite.
There was evidence of recent death or kills, and giant petrels and skuas gorged themselves with the spoils.
For a quieter experience, there was the option to enjoy the very beautiful king penguins who went about their business in a less obtrusive way. Many birds were molting in the stream bed and off in the distance the oakum boys could be seen. But for the most part, the birds quietly walked about the place, occasionally calling and showing signs of inquisitiveness with our presence.
During lunch, the ship relocated to Cooper Bay for the afternoon activities. Along the way humpback whales were spotted off in the distance and for the next hour we tried to get closer looks at these creatures as they went about their feeding.
During the afternoon we boarded the Zodiacs for a cruise around the bay and then out and along the coastline. To best take advantage of the lovely sunny afternoon the ship would drop us off and meet us at the end of the intended cruise.
We tootled along the different landscapes, rocky jagged outcrops of rock and then along beaches laden with elephant seals, and mostly lone bull Antarctic fur seals resting at a safe distance from each other and penguins. The penguins were mostly kings, but we did see the occasional gentoo, and at one point along the shore we saw a number of macaroni penguins as they came ashore and headed up the steep slopes to their breeding colony. A little distance along the coast we also saw two chinstrap penguins.
What was most striking were the impressive steeply rising rock faces guarding narrow inlets. The rocks close to the water were festooned with orange ornithocoprophylic lichens and many species of algae. The for a moment we turned the engines off and listened for the lovely call from the light mantled albatross flying overhead in balletic form.
During the late afternoon and evening the ship sailed out to the drop off in the hope of seeing some more whales. There were some distant blows. What was interesting were the many seabirds out feeding in the area.
It was an incredible day. Sleep came quickly.