Thursday, March 9, 2017

Undine Harbor, South Georgia

Penguins dot the tussock grass at Undine Harbor

     Our first landing on S. Georgia, after three hard days at sea, was at Undine Harbor.  It took some work to get into all the clothing, onto the zodiac, and then a splashy ride to shore.  Despite the 78 passengers, and all the staff, once on shore it seemed like everyone naturally spread out and did their own thing.  It wasn't crowded.  People were not talking.  There were serious photographers, casual photographers, and people just enjoying the moment.  The only sounds were the ocean, the penguins, and the seals. 
     The stop was not that long, I was probably ashore roughly an hour or a bit longer, but in that window there was sun, rain, snow, and really incredible wind - wind strong enough you have to turn your back to it and wait it out.  The variety of weather in such a short time was pretty incredible.
     It was here I had my first encounters with some of the animals I would see much more of in the days to come.  This was an exciting, positive landing with plenty of wildlife to enjoy.  Overall the experience was serene, and I was glad to learn how to successfully get on and off the ship.

Baby elephant seal
      This time of year, early November, the pups have been born and their mothers are either nursing them or have finished nursing and left.  The pups only get to nurse for about 25 days; after that they are on their own.  This fat pup was already alone, with big, innocent eyes and a runny nose.
A mated pair of King penguins
      Mostly there were Gentoos at this landing, but there were a handful of taller King penguins as well, not yet sitting on eggs.
Large male elephant seal with some battle wounds
      The male elephant seals were loud and really huge, as much as 20 feet long.  Ginormous noses, mostly sleepy eyes.  Although their fights for mating rights could be vicious, they were lovable creatures who seemed gentle unless hormones were involved, or territory protection.  The males gathered harems of females when possible.
Two male fur seals, with a few battle wounds
      One of the safety briefings focused on how to deal with attacking fur seals.  At the time of year we landed, the fur seals were not yet too aggressive to land, but later in the season they get so aggressive landing near them is not permitted.  They do defend their space and attack - and the key is to not run.  Either use a stick to tickle their whiskers from a distance (per the guide, and I actually did see this work though I never tried it), or raise your arms, look big, and stand your ground.  (My method, not employed this particular day as I was giving them a wide berth in this location and there were not many).
A mated pair of Gentoo penguins on tussock grass
     I used some of the tips from the photography sessions I attended on board to get this shot with light in the penguin's eye, and a blurry background.  It's probably my favorite image from this landing.
A Gentoo close-up
     When leaving the ship, each passenger has an assigned number that hangs on a tag on the wall.  You flip it over when you leave and flip it back when you return so that ship crew can tell at any given moment how many passengers are on and how many are off the ship.  Good system.  Especially since passengers are allowed to come and go on zodiacs whenever zodiacs are running, and free to wander on shore as long as rules are followed.  This was an excellent first run to get people learning how to get on and off the ship and have a landing - and although brief it was well done.  It was lovely to set foot on land again after so many stormy sea days.
     I immediately saw the value in the waterproof backpack as I was soundly doused on the way back to the ship.  I had a waterproof outer glove layer, pants layer and jacket layer so I stayed dry except for the little bit of water that splashed down my back at the neckline - which taught me to keep my hood up on future trips.

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