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Day 8- Fortuna Bay: Baby Fur Seals, Reindeer and King Penguins, Oh My!
Our next stop was a landing (of course, bright and early) at Fortuna Bay. This was Shackleton's final landing but not the end of his self-rescue. Knowing they did not have the strength to sail to the other side of the island, Shackleton and his two exhausted men hiked into the unknown. Over the mountainous spine of the island, they made their way to the Stromness whaling station, their final destination after loosing the Endurance.
We found the beach filled with life. Many adorable baby fur seals clustered together.
Pups noisily wait for their mothers to return with food.
Are you my mommy? Fur seal pups are shunned by other adult fur seals when looking for their mothers on the Fortuna Bay beach.
We see one happy reunion on the Fortuna Bay beach. The mother seal is obviously content as her fur pup nurses after her log absence searching for food. Now both have full bellies and she will protect him--for a while, anyhow. Fur seal pups left alone while the mothers go to sea to feed often cluster together for safety—and maybe companionship. Many “bleat” frantically as they patrol the beach looking for their mothers. Without their mothers, they are targets for predators.
King penguins and fur seals coexist on the shores of Fortuna Bay. Here, against a beautiful iceberg background, one seal appears to be lecturing a group of inattentive penguins.
Many flying birds inhabit Fortuna Bay on South Georgia Island. The vast number of untended baby seals make the beach easy pickin’s for these predators. Here a South Polar Skua is about to take flight searching for food. They often feed on other bird eggs but do scavenge and sometimes take young seals.
Napkin please. A Giant Southern Petrel with a bloody beak is gorging on a freshly killed seal pup. Life in the wild is not for the squeamish. In these tough latitudes, only the strongest--and luckiest--survive. Each native animal serves a function in this fragile ecosystem. The petrel is a top predator and scavenger in the Southern Ocean. It is a tube-nosed bird and excretes extra salt from its body through these protrusions at the top of their beak.
Walking up from the beach we find reindeer. Whalers brought these animals to South Georgia for food many years ago. The whalers are gone (mostly) but the reindeer proliferate causing untold environmental damage trampling bird eggs and disrupting the tundra. These look scruffy because in January they are in the middle of their “summer” molt.
Over the ridge from our landing spot we reach a large colony of king penguins, including some brown bowling pins. They are called Oakum Boys and are the juvenile penguins covered with thick brown feathers. Named after the brown oakum residue in the bottom of the old ships, they must loose all their “baby” feathers—a tough process —before they can go to sea to feed themselves. The brown feathers won’t insulate them in the water. So until then, mom and dad must continue to catch and bring food to their babies that may be as big as they are.
The king penguins are especially spectacular when they group.
They’re pretty special in small groups, too. Here a parent is looking at a BIG Oakum Boy “teenager” as if to say, “You can’t be hungry again!”
The Oakum Boy feathers are fluffy to keep the chick warm on land.
As they molt, we can see there really is a king penguin under all the feathers.
The Oakum Boys must develop their swimming muscles long before they hit the water. They flap their arms madly and whistle while they stretch and work out.
The colonies are not a quiet place. There is an ongoing cacophony of chirps, whistles, screeches. Three king penguins walk in lock-step through the colony past a molting Oakum Boy. Really quite wonderful.
The color pattern on the adults is a geometric delight.
These are amazing creatures. We had one king penguin talk to us--well, maybe...
Heading back to our zodiacs taking us back to the ship, we hike up to a waterfall from the melting Konig Glacier….
The geologists in our group stop to look at (you guessed it!) rock formations.
Back on board, we head from Fortuna Bay, where Shackleton’s party landed, to Stromness across the island. This is the site where Shackleton's group finally reached safety--and where they set off to successfully rescue the rest of the Endurance crew left on Elephant Island. On the way we see beautiful examples of the flat tabular ice.
We pass Stromness,
Then head out to sea to our next landfall tomorrow--at Godthul, an old Norwegian whaling station.
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