|Three young fur seals at Cooper Bay|
The next day we were landing at Cooper Bay, which we were told would be the only chance for us to see Macaroni penguins on this voyage. The government of South Georgia had put out a booklet about what you can expect to see on S. Georgia which was several years old. According to the information in that book and the photos, Macaroni penguins were by far the most prolific and easiest to see penguin on the island, with multiple huge colonies. Yet, in 2015, there was this one place to see them on S. Georgia? And it was not a huge colony. The huge colonies were now King and Gentoo. There was only one chance to see Chinstrap penguins as well, and it would also be this day. We would not be able to land near the chinstraps, however, as there had been some disease in their colony (avian cholera) and it would be an unacceptable biological risk to land and possibly spread it elsewhere despite precautions. I was more than happy to comply with such a rule and glad it was in place, but it was weird that the numbers of penguins and their locations were changing so rapidly.Why? Global warming has impacted the available krill, which is a major food source for penguins and many other animals in this part of the world. In addition, krill is being harvested commercially for factory farmed fish and for extraction of oil. There is insufficient regulation, using outdated data, of the amounts than can be harvested. The net result of all this is far, far less krill in the southern ocean, and visably fewer penguins and whales, which rely heavily on krill. A recent article in the NY Times explains these issues well. On all of my wildlife trips I see impacts of global warming, and they are always depressing. It is even more depressing that people still refuse to recognize the dangers, and that as a species we are not working together to do everything we can to slow it.
The guides who had been coming to S. Georgia and Antarctica for years had taken photos over the years and shared in slide shows their personal observations - glaciers shrinking, ice melting, colonies of penguins shrinking, locations of penguin colonies changing as they seek colder water and more available krill. Yes, another layer of depressing on this trip on which there was no shortage. Mankind is deeply and perhaps already irreversibly altering a critical part of the world ecosystem and all the species therein, yet little attention is being paid. Scientists try and warn us, but most people are not that informed, and certainly not demanding action from their governments on the issue.
Trying to focus on the one chance to see Macaroni penguins rather than all the depressing reasons I would not be having more chances than one, I geared up for a landing at Cooper Bay. The briefing mentioned that there was a somewhat steep and difficult climb to get to their colony, and urged caution. Apparently, it was at this landing spot on a previous trip where someone broke a leg and the ship had to go to the Falkland Islands hospital - ending the trip for all. I renewed my commitment to try and be aware of my physical self, and to be careful and not get injured.
A few of the guides/staff marked out the
|Zodiacs landed on the small beach; this is taken from above, |
near the Macaroni penguin colony
|Overlooking the Macaroni colony, which is on a bluff|
|Attempted close up of a Macaroni penguin|
Even if you are wearing five layers, sitting or laying in the snow does make you cold - so I tried to move around enough to try another location. The snow was sometimes so heavy I couldn't get any shots, and while usually we all spread out and didn't bother one another, here there was really only one vantage point of the
|This is probably my favorite shot, and still not great.|
As I previously mentioned, I am very inexperienced with taking video and I very, very rarely do it. All the same, I wanted to try on this trip to capture a bit of the sounds of the animals and a little bit of their movement. Here is a very short video of a macaroni penguin who has made his way up to the colony and is walking through it.
The way most of the penguins got to the colony was around the corner from the small beach the zodiacs were landing on. I visited it by zodiac - you can see the line of penguins here making their way up to the bluff and the colony.
|Macaroni penguins make a steep ascent|
I decided that there was no way I could safely descend on foot. I was falling and tripping and it was taking forever to fill in post holes. I was exhausted. So I decided that I would sit down and slide back to the beach. It was safer to slide than to try to climb down.
|Fur seals curled up look just like rocks - this one is upright|
Sliding down as fast as I could, trying to both be quick and not get injured, and trying hard not to get bit by a fur seal, I thought about how this was a most interesting and challenging vacation. I hadn't expected this particular experience. I was very relieved when I got to the beach unbitten and uninjured.
|A large fur seal on the beach, which attacked one of the staff, |
and was successfully tamed by a stick tickling his whiskers.
I had to see it to believe it worked.
In planning the trip, I had considered a voyage that stopped at a lot of islands including the Sandwich Islands and Elephant Island. I ended up not booking that trip due to concerns about the number of days at sea between islands and the fact that there was one chance to land at each place and if weather prevented it, I'd miss it. Now that I saw what the weather was like in this part of the world I was really glad I picked an in-depth S. Georgia trip instead. Even though we missed some landings, we had a lot of chances, not just one, to see more of the wildlife on the island, and no real time at sea after arrival at S. Georgia.
|A small iceberg near Cooper Bay|
|A shag or cormorant (I forget which) in Cooper Bay|