Gold Harbour - Grytviken

Nov 15, 2018 - National Geographic Orion

The red glow of sunrise bathed Gold Harbour as our Zodiacs came into land. The beach heaved with life. Bull elephant seals were roaring around us, and the floor beneath our feet was littered with huge fat pups - affectionately known as “weaners”. As we made our way down the sands, the colours, noises, and smells of the king penguin colony filled the senses, all with the beautiful backdrop of the glaciated mountains of South Georgia.

The elephant seal weaners (so-called because they had already been weaned) showed a significant interest in our presence on the beach. Their curiosity was endearing, and by the time we returned to the bay for our second visit after breakfast, they had almost all rolled over and fallen asleep - almost making them more adorable.

As we left Gold Harbour, we were treated to a wonderful surprise - several humpback whales surfacing around the boat. The sighting ending in a fantastic display as one individual breached repeatedly, around 10 times.

We continued around the South Georgia coastline to Grytviken where landing ashore, we paid our respects at the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Eric made a heartfelt toast we all shared a dram of whiskey in “the boss’s” honour.

From there we headed round to the old whaling station at Grytviken, where we were met by South Georgia Heritage Trust intern, Finlay. Finlay led us around the whaling station on a fantastic in-depth tour, detailing how the station operated; what life was like for those 400 - 500 men who lived and worked there, and also how we lost as many as 175,000 whales from our seas at the station. A sobering but hugely interesting tour topped off with a visit to the onsite museum - home to many rare and incredible artifacts.

Upon returning to the ship, Sarah from the South Georgia Heritage Trust delivered a brilliant talk, telling us all about the groundbreaking rat irradiation programme which was carried out on the island - to great success.

After a long day dinner was served, and we began our journey south from South Georgia.

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About the Author

Ella Potts


Ella’s passion has always been in marine conservation, with a childhood spent swimming, kayaking or boating in the chilly waters of the UK, or surveying the marine life of those waters from windswept headlands. She has numerous, distinct early memories of shivering adults, wrapped up in jumpers and cagoules, looking down at her with slight horror through sheets of rain and commenting on her short sleeves. A phenomena that persists to this day.  She graduated with a Masters degree in Marine Biology: Conservation and Resource Management from Swansea University, setting her up for a career protecting those marine ecosystems that she so loves. 

Ella has worked for several British whale conservancy charities, including ORCA and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and is a British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) marine mammal medic. She has a real passion for lecturing, and during her time in these different organizations has presented to vastly ranging audiences; from groups of young children right up to filled auditoriums at the headquarters of HWDT partner, WWF. 

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