Cruise Report: Antarctica

From the National Geographic Explorer, January 5, 2009

Right Whale Bay & Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Islands

Thousands of fur seal pups

Well, it was bound to happen. While we slept, the weather finally turned on us. The seas were a bit rough, the sky was grey, it was foggy, and it was raining. A quick look at the infamous Salisbury Plain told us that there was no way we could land in that swell.

The ship turned and headed to “plan B”. About two hours later the National Geographic Explorer dropped anchor in Right Whale Bay. Then, because our luck hadn’t really run out (we think it just wanted to make certain we knew just how lucky we were), the skies mostly cleared, the sun came out, there was no rain, the winds slowed, and we were all able to enjoy a lovely zodiac tour.

The beaches here proved to be absolutely covered in fur seals, and especially, fur seal pups. The small, dark, furry pups numbered into the thousands, making the beaches appear much darker in color than they really were. The sounds of their whimpering calls filled the air. One would never know that only a few years ago, landings and hikes could easily be made on this beach.

Right Whale Bay also is the home of a king penguin colony. The colony here extends up the hillside and has, at best guess 10,000 birds. The giant petrel was repeatedly seen while out on tour. They nest in the tussock grass on the hillsides and, as carrion eaters, enjoy the spoils of dead fur seal pups and penguins. A petrel feeding frenzy was even observed on a dead penguin in the water. Dozens of petrels, of different colors and ages, fought to get the last remains.

After such a morning full of excitement, what could possibly come next? Our expedition leader, Matt Drennan, decided that with our luck we could give Salisbury Plain another try. So the ship turned east, back to where we had come from.

Holding true to the past 14 days, our luck continued, and a landing was made at Salisbury Plain. A path was made through the large male fur seals into the king penguin colony there. Penguins were in all stages of development from the young, fluffy brown “oakum boys” to adults molting last year’s feathers. Most people wandered, amazed, across the smooth green grass of the plain, picking their way through the scattered penguins and fur seals. Both species stretched as far as the eye could see. Clear skies also allowed for a great view of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.

What a great send off South Georgia gave us. Nothing but amazing wildlife, fine weather and sunny days to mark our memories made there. Now, off to the Falklands…..

View Antarctica itineraries…


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