Godthul & Hercules Bay, South Georgia

Feb 27, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

Early morning and we are anchored in the calm shelter of Godthul, the site of a former whaling operation. Not a land-based whaling station, rather a shore-supported whaling venture. Whale-hunting ships would haul their “take” into the bay. The whales would be flensed next to the ship and the blubber rendered and stored onshore. Today the area has many large, rusty metal sheds, rusty metal barrels, and the remains of rotted wooden barrels. And yes, many bones of whales.

Long hikes were offered as well as Zodiac cruising along the scenic shores. The hikers saw fur and elephant seals along the cobbled beach. They took a steep ascent through large tussock grass, the local 4- to 6-foot-high tufted grass, until reaching the short tundra vegetation where there were villages of gentoo penguins and great views. On the water, guest also saw fur and elephant seals, as well as waterfalls and a couple of icebergs. A single, molting Magellanic penguin was spotted and later, was killed and eaten by a giant petrel. And yes, that is the way nature is.

After lunch, we anchored in another scenic bay. Hercules Bay is a protected body of water flanked by cliffs, mountains, and glacial cirques. Both Godthul and Hercules Bay are on the north-northeast side—the wet side—of South Georgia Island. We Zodiac cruised since there was really no place to land. 

There are a few special things here at Hercules Bay. For example, there is the magic waterfall—hundreds of feet high, maybe 20 feet wide, as the water crashes down on the rocky beach. But that is it. No stream, no pond—the water just disappears. The cliffs and mountains look like they are made from petrified taffy, multiple layers that are twisting and rolling. We spotted Magellanic penguins, hundreds of penguins with bright yellow eyebrows, some molting and many others moving from the steep, rocky shore into and out of the water. They made me cringe when they face-planted after leaping out of the sea on to the rocks. All in all, quite the enjoyable day.

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About the Author

Dennis Cornejo


Dennis began scuba diving during the mid-1970s as part of a research project. At the time he was a research associate at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, studying the population of winter hibernating sea turtles.  What began as a scientific study soon became a conservation project that expanded to three species of sea turtles along the entire Pacific coast of Mexico.  This project received major funding from the World Wildlife Fund and was eventually taken over directly by that agency with Kim Clifton and Dennis Cornejo as co-principal investigators.

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