Our next stop on South Georgia was at Moltke Harbor. It was overcast and the conditions were borderline for zodiac travel, but we got the go ahead to land.
There were a large number of Elephant Seals on the beach. The males (bulls) can weigh up to 4 tonnes (almost 9,000 lbs) and are also very territorial, so we needed to keep our distance from them (10m at least). They had just completed their mating season and were pretty tired/stressed out as the beach masters fought with other males several times a day to defend their territory.
A beach master is a male seal who dominates the beach. This is important as they will be the first ones to encounter the females when they return from the sea to breed and the beach master can then “claim” them for his harem.
Here are some young bulls already battling for territory (they stand upright, lunge and bite each other):
If you look closely, you can see the bite marks from the numerous fights they get into. With the beach masters, the fights sometimes leave the “losing” bull in a battle fatally wounded.
We came across a pair of nesting Skuas. It was hard to see their nests as they blended into the ground and landscape. When you are walking on South Georgia, you have to pay attention to the path you are taking as it is really easy to step on a bird, or get in an animals path. All animals have the “right of way” in South Georgia.
We finally made it up to a small Gentoo Penguin rookery. The chicks looked like there were only a couple weeks old and were the cutest little things.
The Gentoo females will usually lay two eggs – the first one being smaller than the second. I have heard that sometimes the female will abandon the smaller, first egg. Why, I have no idea.
If you observe the parents interacting with their chicks, the larger chick (from the larger egg) is usually the more aggressive one, especially when it comes to feeding time. The smaller chicks rarely got to eat and in some cases, will die of starvation. I am sure Darwin would have a few things to say about that.
One odd sight at the Gentoo Penguin rookery was this Elephant Seal pup (“weaner”). We were about 2-3 kms inland so I thought it was strange to see a seal here. He was barking/crying for some reason. I think he felt left out as the penguins were getting all of the attention. So the weaner came towards us and penguins.
He finally ended up in the middle of the rookery and was quite content there. Perhaps after his mother abandoned him, a penguin adopted him? Who knows, I have see stranger things happen.
I decided to climb one of the moraines to get a better view of the penguin rookery. You can see from this shot that it was much smaller than the previous ones we had visited. It was quite windy as a cold Katabatic wind was starting to come in, so I decided to climb down as I felt unstable up there (I almost fell too, it was that windy … yikes!). Watch your step!
Each penguin has a unique call that they use in identifying themselves to their mate (and chicks). When one penguin would come back from feeding, they would call out to their partner who would respond. Of course, to humans, it all sounds the same. Not to the penguins, though. It is amazing though to see and hear this… here is a couple reuniting.
The parents would take turns feeding at sea so that one of them was always with the chicks. Here is a Gentoo regurgitating a meal of fish and squid for their young.
For these Gentoo Penguin images, I used the Nikon D3, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G zoom lens and Nikon TC-20E III Teleconverter as it is important not to scare a nesting penguin, so I need the extra reach. We were instructed to keep back 10m from them Not doing so may result in the adult pengin getting scared and running away – the Skuas (or other predatory birds) might invade the nest and feed on the chicks. I also used the Hydrophobia Rain Cover as it looked like it would rain all morning.
The weather was starting to close in on us as the winds really picked up, so we were instructed to head back to the ship.
As we started walking towards the beach to board a zodiac, we came across this group of moulting King Penguins. When penguins moult, their feathers are not waterproof, so they cannot go to sea to feed or they will drown. They stay on land for a few weeks to finish the moulting process and starve themselves.
It is important not to disturb a moulting penguin as they are trying to conserve energy by not moving. Forcing a moulting penguin to move might deplete enough of its stored energy so that it might starve to death before it can return to sea.
This Elephant Seal looks like they have had a really hard day.
The winds have really picked up and it is starting to rain – it was a tough walk getting back to the beach. We were spoiled with really good weather before today. I guess South Georgia is showing her other side.
After returning to the ship, we set sail for Godthul. Unfortunately, there has been a bug going around the ship (according to the doctor) and I am now feeling under the weather (my wife is not feeling well at all – so are several other passengers). I also got a chill on shore, which isn’t helping.
Even if the weather gets better this afternoon I don’t know if I will have the energy to go ashore. Wait and see, I suppose…
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