Day 11 - Godthul Bay, South Georgia
I woke early, as normal, a bit more refreshed than the day before. An early night after a relatively calm day (emotionally!) does that. It was all a bit too much after Salisbury Plain. Godthul was our destination during the morning following our visits to the historical and inhabited stops of Stromness and Grytvikan, respectively. It is a bay 1.6 kilometres (1 mi) long entered between Cape George and Long Point, on the north coast of South Georgia, between Cumberland East Bay and Ocean Harbour. The name Godthul (Norwegian for "Good Hollow") dates back to the period 1905–12, and was probably applied by Norwegian sealers and whalers working in the area.The number of seabirds have now drastically decreased the closer we are to land, with many birds on their nests or out foraging for food. The Black-browed Albatross and White-chinned Petrels were about in good numbers, as were Light-mantled Sooty Albatross which breed on the cliffs here around Godthul. Here is a map showing you whereabouts we are now along the northern coast of the island.
The Zodiac tour around the bay was very relaxing and a nice introduction to a day that was going to test my emotional state to the max, more so than Salisbury Plain! But more on that later. I was very fortunate on this Zodiac trip to be in the rib with none-other than Mr. Paul Nicklen, photographer extraordinaire and regular National Geographic contributor. Paul, and his partner Cristina Mittermeier, were great company and an inspiration throughout the trip. Both were very humble, generous with their time and patience. With Paul at the helm, we motored around the bay randomly, observing and photographing the wildlife there. All the photographs in this post were taken from the bumpy and unstable platform of the Zodiac, which always made it a challenge and particularly in the poor light we had. Godthul was home to Elephant and Fur seals, parked along the shoreline in various harems and pretenders to the throne. Weaners were there in good numbers and a few young male Elephant seals were throwing shapes and bellowing loudly at one or two females that were resting up on the shore. There was also the mewing calls of Fur Seal pups penetrating the air, which were only born in the days previously. Quite a sight and sound.
A female Fur Seal growling at the big male making its way towards her.
A harem of female Fur Seals with a pup that is only a couple of days old. Females become fertile again once the pup is born.
Wallowing weaners along the shoreline.
A Fur Seal harem. The big male is on the left, while the females, with a pup or two visible, to its right.
A young male Elephant seal in amongst some Weaners and Fur Seals.
A young Elephant Seal (weaner) curiously approaches the Zodiac.
Bones bones everywhere. The past use of the bay was quite obvious all along the shoreline. The whole place was littered with whale and seal bones, all aged and weathered by the harsh environment. Thankfully this does not go on anymore. It was quite sobering, yet upsetting seeing this. I can only imagine what the colour of the water and the stench must have been like in the days when these glorious mammals were butchered. Brutal humanity doing what it does best...
Along the lower cliffs were found South Georgia (Imperial) Shags, Snowy Sheathbills, Kelp Gulls and Antarctic Terns nesting and feeding. The Snowy Sheathbills came to visit the ship on a couple of occasions that day and are very curious birds. I found the Sheathbills to be hilarious and quite primal in their appearance and behaviour. A small group of half a dozen Gentoo Penguins looked lost at one side of the bay. Antarctic Terns fished along the edges and shallows, while Kelp Gulls just meandered amongst the Fur Seals and ran the gauntlet though the Shag colonies. It was great seeing some South Georgia Pintails here as well, with about 6 birds present, mostly paired up. They didn't take to the Zodiacs all too well and always flew to the opposite shore when we puttered by.
South Georgia Shags on their nests on the tussac grass.
An adult Kelp Gull meanders through the resting Fur Seals, looking for an easy meal.
A pair of South Georgia Pintails.
An Antarctic Tern hunts along the shallows of Godthul bay.
South Georgia Shags fish along the shallows of Godthul Bay.
A pair of South Georgia Pintail in flight.
The cliffs here were very steep, which you can sort of gauge from the image below with the Sea Spirit at the base. The weather was not spectacular, with low cloud/fog but at least it was dry and cold. The colours here are quite muted, with mosses, lichens and short grasses being weather-beaten and burned of any vibrancy. There was only one area where the colour was a bit more vibrant, along the flow of a small waterfall at one side of the cliff. There, some more lush herbage was evident and stood out against the muted greys and browns. Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses were flying by here in their display flight, while their haunting calls and songs echoed around the bay. It was surreal.
After a few hours on the water and puttering around the bay with Paul, Cristina and Jim, we headed back to the Sea Spirit for some more food and beverages. A hot mug of coffee was in order. A few Cape Petrels were hanging around the boat and fed on whatever was thrown up by the ships engines as we turned and headed out of the bay into open sea and on towards St. Andrew's Bay...home to nearly 500,000 King Penguins...
Keywords: Albatross, Canon, Cape Petrel, Carmody, Duck, Elephant Seal, Fur, Fur Seal, Jim Wilson, Mark Carmody, Photography, Pintail, Quark, Seal, South, South Georgia Pintail, Whale, Whale bone
Mark - I'm enviously catching up with your Antarctic adventure! I was as surprised to see how yellow the legs of the Kelp Gull in this post are - I usually think of them being green when I'm hopefully scanning GBB flocks here. I guess there must be variation. Thanks, John C
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