Glowing Gold Harbor

Located on the Southeast side of South Georgia with the Bertrab Glacier hanging over soaring cliffs,img_1287 Gold Harbor is as beautiful as the metal, but not named for it. Instead, the moniker originated from sentimental sealers for the brilliant aura the sun casts on the cliffs in the morning and at sunset.img_1412

Waddling about in the bright green tussock grass are male Gentoo penguins searching for just the right color or shape of rock to offer his beloved(s). Some lonely females swoon with pleasure, when baby penguin daddy takes his turn to feed at sea. Pretty rocks are very tempting.

Drag your eyes from this telenovela, and listen to the crescendo of trumpeting King Penguins . Many stand tipped back on their heels with fur poofing over the egg balanced on their feet. Parents hatch one chick. It takes over a year (14 months) from egg to fledge, that’s a long time for a bird to be a parent. Usually long-lived animals are monogamous, but divorce for King Penguins is high. Time is of the essence when they return to breed. The survival rate for chicks is higher for early hatches. If last years mate is late–there ain’t no date.

Brown, fluffy juveniles hound their parents for food. Another interesting fact: in winter the juveniles live in “creches” and don’t eat when food is scarce, relying on their fat reserves. In spring, the parents resume feeding their young.

Molting makes the kid penguins look a wee rough. Too grungy. Strung out and seeking solace. Many act kind of goofy, running around in circles. Adolescence is hard on everyone, but flipper-flapping is exercise for when they can finally swim.

Closer to the beach, “weaner” elephant seals roar and wrestle, becoming strong too. They’ll be mature in four years, but it takes six to eight before they can fight hard enough to become beachmasters, and control an average harem of 70 cows. Being a ladies man requires hard work, resulting in a short life.

Patrolling the beach are bird predators: Skua (related to gulls) and Giant Petrals, with the illustrious reputation of  ‘vultures of the Antarctic’ for how they gorge on dead carrion.




img_0909Carl Larsen began this processing station in 1904 after discovering a whale-filled, sheltered  bay. The name in Norwegian means “the pot cove” from animal melting try-pots that sealers left behind.img_5307

The first year, Larsen’s company never had to leave the bay to harvest whales because there were so many. They took 183. (Keep note of this number.) In 1906, the Governor of the Falklands attempted to regulate the industry with laws requiring: no harvesting of females with calves, no rare Right whales, only two “catcher” boats per station, and mandatory use of every part of the kill. img_0918

The arrival of factory ships at sea destroyed any hopes for sustainable harvesting. What happens at sea, stays at sea. Fifty years later, Grytviken harvested 53,761 whales and many of those mammals were taken by unlicensed sources. (Quite an increase from #183!) Whale oil sold as high as 90 British pounds sterling for each metric ton. This was during WWII, when blubber was used in the production of nitroglycerin.

At one time, 500 men worked here rendering whales and seals into oil, meat, or fertilizer.   Senior officials and Larsen raised their families here. It would have been a rough place for children. Although Larsen had a church built, a Lutheran pastor made the comment, “Religious life among whalers leaves much to be desired.”

Potatoes were stored in the church for a time and movies shown there until the cinema was built. On our tour, we were told that alcohol was forbidden, but the commissary had a booming sale in perfume. At first, officials thought the men offset the stench of the killing field. Later, it was discovered the men drank the perfume to get buzzed.

Whaling continued here through 1964 ( by the Japanese), but the outpost became a victim of its own success. Without measures to protect what they harvested, the number of whales dropped. WW11 also saw advances in new products and technology, essentially making whaling obsolete. The Fur and Elephant weaners are quite at home here now.

Today, Grytviken is maintained by the South Georgia Heritage Trust with a terrific museum and the last post office before the seventh continent. You can buy liquor here now–a nice bottle of South Georgia  scotch in the gift shop.

When we returned to the ship, the 20-or-so summer residents of Grytviken joined us on deck for a fantastic BBQ