Monday 8 December 2014

King Penguins and Fur Seals

Our second day on the unparalleled island of South Georgia took us to Fortuna Bay in the morning and Stømness in the afternoon. After visiting the second largest King Penguin colony in South Georgia yesterday (Salisbury Plain) one might have thought that the much smaller colony at Fortuna would be of little interest. Far from it! First only a handful of people were able to land at Salisbury Plain due to very bad swell on the beach. Second, the Fortuna Bay colony though small, is more accessible and allows closer study of these amazing birds. So, you guessed it, we had an fantastic time at Fortuna! Landing conditions were excellent with little swell and a light wind so we were all able to see the colony this time! Halfway through the morning, fog rolled in from the Southern Ocean and shrouded the hillsides around the bay with heavy fog. This caused the Shackleton hike over to Strømness to be cancelled.

Once we landed, we hiked towards the colony though a gauntlet of Antarctic Fur Seals. This is Fur Seal breeding season, and the beaches were chock full of large males, their females, and the totally cute young pups.

The males were much more interested in fighting off other males and protecting their females so it was relatively easy to find a safe route through the fur seal colony and up above .

Many adult King Penguins were back in the colony getting ready to lay or feeding their full-grown chicks, and a few were still moulting. A few chicks were already showing their adult plumage but it will be a while before most will be ready to go! There was a constant din over the colony caused by singing adults and whistling youngsters. The King Penguin has to be one of the most handsome of birds!

It started raining in the morning and continued for most of our afternoon landing at Strømness. Regular readers of the Fram blog will know that there is a derelict whaling station at Strømness, which provides a frequent backdrop to the local wildlife. 

Few penguins breed at Strømness but this is made up for by dense fur seal colony along the entire beach. There is constant activity in a fur seal colony with males chasing other males and females fighting with their partners, all the while the tiny young pups sit underneath all this activity “hoping” they don’t get trampled. They occasionally do but they are clearly tougher than they look and usually come out of it unscathed. (Your faithful blogger can't resist showing another image of a pup!)

Dotted here and there amongst the tussac and on the beach were Elephant Seals of various ages. Many were moulting as evidenced by the patches of dead skin and hair (Elephant Seals moult a layer of skin as well as their hair).

Most of us made a hike up the valley behind Strømness to a beautiful waterfall. This is the last part of the hike Shackleton and his men made from Fortuna.