We have finally arrived at South Georgia after being at sea for two days. I found it pretty calm on the ship during our voyage and didn’t require my sea sickness medication. I am now looking forward to going ashore to explore this place that I have heard so much about.
To give you an idea where we are, here is our map:
We will attempt our first landing at Salisbury Plain which is home to almost 200,000 King Penguins. We were informed that the weather is extremely unpredictable in South Georgia and that it can change at any moment. The day started out fairly sunny and quickly turned to being overcast. The winds were cooperating with us though, so were able to go ashore.
I decided not to put my Nikon D3 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G in my wetbag for this landing … instead, I was going to use them with my Hydrophobia Rain Cover and get some shots of the wildlife as we cruised in the zodiac. You can see the first landing party on shore – there was wildlife all over the beach. And if you look just to the left of the landing party, you will see the welcoming committee.
We made it ashore and I got out of the zodiac. Everywhere you looked, there were King Penguins. Thousands of them.
The following is a adult male Fur Seal with his harem. Take note: Fur Seals are the most putrid smelling animals I have ever encountered.
We were told to maintain a minimum distance of 10m from the Fur Seals for our own safety. Here is a warning for you: male Fur Seals can be dangerous.
Since the males are very territorial, they can get quite aggressive if they perceive you to be a threat and will sometimes “charge” you (even the young seals will do this). So what do you do if a seal charges you?
DO NOT RUN AWAY – STAND YOUR GROUND.
You read that correctly. Do not run away. Fur seals can run up to 25 to 35km/h, catch up with you and bite you. You do not stand a chance trying to run from them wearing your Wellington boots. If a male seal does try to charge you, this is what you need to do:
If you follow these steps, you should be safe.
I tried to avoid the seals altogether, but that was impossible as their were hundreds of them everywhere. Fortunately, nobody on our vessel got bitten. I had heard of some people being hurt in the past, but they were the ones that tried to run away or were too close to begin with.
Now, back to the penguins
As you will find out, King Penguins are very curious by nature. We started to head inland towards the rookery and encountered penguin after penguin.
When we finally arrived at the rookery and I could not believe my eyes. There were penguins everywhere – as far as the eye could see. Remember, Salisbury Plain is home to almost 200,000 of these little creatures.
The brown “specks” you see are King Penguin chicks. I had a little chuckle as I thought they looked like “Wookiees” (for all of you Star Wars fans). When the first explorers to South Georgia first saw them, they thought that they had discovered a new variety of penguin as they did not look anything like their parents.
The chicks are always hungry and are constantly pestering their parents for food. Sounds like the chicks are not that different from human children!
The chicks were even more curious than the adults and would often get very close (sometimes too close) to you. We were supposed to maintain a minimum distance of 5m from the penguins, but with them approaching you, it was impossible to do that sometimes.
How to get a penguin to approach you
The key thing is to remain still (standing or sitting) for several minutes. Once the penguins realize that you are not a threat to them, they will come closer to investigate. It is also important not to make sudden movements – you do not want to scare them off.
When the penguins got too close for me to use my telephoto lens (and I did not have enough time to change lenses), I would slowly reach into my outer coat pocket, pull out the Panasonic GF1 with my Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens and take a shot.
BTW, you are not allowed to touch or pet the wildlife – just enjoy their company and a miracle of nature.
It was time to head back to the ship, so I started walking back to the beach. Of course, no walk in South Georgia is complete without seeing a few penguins or seals.
There were quite a few seal pups on the beach … most of them were less than two weeks old.
South Georgia has already exceeded my expectations of it and they were very high to begin with – and this was only our first stop here. We are heading to Fortuna Bay next, which is an abandoned whaling station. Let’s hope our luck with the weather doesn’t run out and we can make our landing later today.
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