Wildlife Encounters in Gold Harbour, South Georgia
Back from our Peninsula, Falklands & South Georgia voyage, Polar Travel Specialist Jo, talks of her encounter with penguins and elephant seals at Gold Harbour, South Georgia…
After being told that the wake up call was going to be around 4.30am, I was not particularly looking forward to an early morning start, however I have to say that it was worth it! After being woken up by our expedition leader’s dulcet tones, we peeked out of our window to see beautiful sunlight and the end of sunrise (in November, the sun sets around 10:45pm and rises again around 3am and even then it doesn’t get fully dark). We had a hasty breakfast and then eagerly made our way to the gangway to head over to shore. After landing at Gold Harbor, we all diligently left our lifejackets in a pile and collected our walking sticks and were then soon joined by a very cute baby elephant seal who decided to be our guide dog and look after our equipment!
Looking around us, the beach was covered in huge male elephant seals all fighting for space or females by attempting to move their huge bulbous bodies and grunting and then shortly giving up as it was too much effort! The baby elephant seals, however, were the ones who stole my heart and I still miss their noises and big puppy-dog eyes! You would sometimes look down and see their big eyes looking up at you and it made you want to tickle their tummies when they turned over!
I soon realised that I have been on the landing site for about an hour and had only moved about 2 metres as I had been too transfixed watching the elephant seals and the wandering king penguins risking their lives going in and out of them. When I finally went further up the beach, I realised that there were thousands of king penguin chicks amongst their parents and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realised that there were penguins as far as the eye could see! If you knelt down near them, they would often come to check you out (there is a 5 metre rule of where you can stand) but if they want to come close to you – there’s no rule against that!
The noise of elephant seals and king penguins chicks calling out to their parents is a noise which I will never forget. I just remember thinking that I felt like I was in a David Attenborough wildlife programme and feeling grateful that expedition leader woke us up so early as it was so worth it and a dream come true!