Monday, 23 January 2012

St Andrews, Molke Harbour and Gold Harbour 20/1/2012

Molke Harbour - 20/1/2012: morning landing (2nd attempt!)
We awoke just offshore from South Georgia’s biggest King Penguin rookery and elephant seal breeding ground but, alas, after a glimpse of the beach from the deck of the M/S Expedition, we had to abandon our proposed landing, due to rough sea conditions. Our prolonged spell of sunny days and calm seas had passed, and we were now given a true taste of the Antarctic weather. We moved onto a more sheltered landing at Moltke Harbour and, as we rode the Zodiacs to shore, the 30 knot winds scratched at our cheeks as if filled with tiny shards of glass and we received a drenching of salt water as we soared over the waves and smashed into the troughs.

Snoozy blubber slugs at Molke Harbour
Headed for a view of Moltke’s cascading waterfalls, interlocking spurs and impressive gorges, we battled against the now 40 knot gusts as we picked our way past teeth-barring fur seals, held our noses as we skirted blubber slug wallows, kept as respectful distance from malting penguins and crossed fast flowing rivers, where the water sloshed dangerously close to the top of our wellies.

Young male elephant seal awakes at Molke harbour

 Hats were blown off in the wind, wellie-boots were sucked off in the mud, noses were numbed and socks were soaked  but Molke Harbour rewarded us with one of the most impressive displays of elephant seal sparring seen so far on the trip: every 15 minutes or so, one of the adolescent blubber slugs at the far end of the sandy beach would rouse themselves from their slumber with a resonating belch, curve their immense trunk-like torsos in the air, widen their goggley eyes and bare their teeth at one of their playmates. A few minutes of body slaps and sparring would ensue, punctuated with reverberating gurgles, burps and toilet noises that echoed deep within their cavities.
Sparring elephant seals at Molke Harbour

Blubber slug in hiding

Gold Harbour 20/1/2012 –afternoon landing
Our missed opportunity at St Andrews Bay was remedied with a fantastic afternoon at Gold Harbour. This long stretch of sandy beach is home to an immense rookery of King Penguins, who position themselves conveniently on an elevated beach platform, allowing easy viewing of the incubating eggs which rest on their feet.

Penguin power at Gold Harbour
Emperor Penguin adults - by Sally Wiltshire

Emperor penguin chicks at Gold Harbour
Greeted ashore by our usual welcoming committee of diving fur seals, waddling penguins and nonchalant blubber slugs, three hours of wildlife watching passed in minutes as we became welcome guests of hundreds of thousands of accommodating King penguins. We watched male and female Kings make egg exchanges; saw nesting parents peck and squawk as passers-by; witnessed mums and dads regurgitate meals of krill down the necks of their demanding offspring; filmed squabbling penguins as they slapped each other with their flippers; allowed curious yearlings to peck at our bags and, on occasion, jump on our backs; tensed as the skuas soared above the rookery; saw snowy sheathbills bounce around on the bow of a Zodiac; purred back at sea pups and growled at the larger fur seals that bounded towards us.
Elephant seals and Emperors - everyone's malting at Gold Harbour 

Getting friendly at Gold Harbour - by Sally Wiltshire
This blog-post forms part of a series of adventures experienced on-board the M/S Expedition in January 2012, whilst on an Antarctic Cruise - The Spirit of Shackleton - courtesy of Gadventures

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