Elsehul, Salisbury, & the Welcome Islands

Nov 14, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

After two days of sailing over 600 miles, National Geographic Explorer finally awoke to its first glimpses of South Georgia. Quickly filling out the bridge and bow, we took in the Willis Islands peeking through the fog. A welcoming party of several species of tubenose birds led the way, and excitement levels grew as we cruised past our first penguin colonies perched on the rugged cliffs. After breakfast, we pulled into the beautiful bay of Elsehul, where we set out for our first expedition operations in this new location of our journey. Many guests set out to explore by Zodiac, while others headed ashore to enjoy views of grey-headed albatross nesting in the steep, tussocky cliffs. Sounds of Southern Ocean pinnipeds echoed about the bay and rafts of giant petrels made light work of scavenging on the cold waters. As we continued on our way, we enjoyed a presentation about king penguins by naturalist and penguin expert Hannah Kriesell, building our knowledge of what to expect on this incredible island.

It wasn’t long before we were bundled up and out on deck again, as humpback whales were spotted feeding at the surface. Offering views of their fluke patterns as they dove, this was a unique opportunity for us to photograph and learn more about a species that was once hunted to near extinction in these very waters. Following lunch, we explored the Welcome Islands by Zodiac, which offered excellent views of macaroni penguins on the dramatic rock formations and in the surrounding waters.

Meanwhile, our undersea team explored the marine environment below, which boasted beautiful clear visibility and impressive kelp forests swaying with the swell. Our first experiences of South Georgia today did not disappoint, but even by dinner time, the day was far from over. Layering up again for our last, but certainly not least, outing of the day, we headed ashore to explore the spectacular wildlife at Salisbury Plain. Pictured against a backdrop of beautiful mountains, tremendous numbers of king penguins of all ages beckoned to us past the enormous elephant seals crowding the shoreline. As the sky shifted through a stunning spectrum of color, it was hard to believe just one place could deliver so much in a single day, but easy to go to bed knowing that there would be so much more still to come.

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About the Author

Maya Santangelo

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

Maya was born and raised in Southern California, where her curiosity for the natural world was encouraged from an early age. Relocating to Sydney, Australia with her family at 11 years old, she learned to scuba dive, eventually becoming a PADI Instructor. Her fascination for the underwater world undoubtedly fueled her interest to study marine biology at James Cook University. Working as a professional guide in some of the world’s top dive destinations, including Palau and Mexico’s Guadalupe Island and Revillagigedo Archipelago, Maya realized a passion for sharing her love for the ocean with others, and the value of citizen science in the dive industry.

About the Photographer

Jamie Coleman

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Jamie is from England. He grew up in Oxford, about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK, yet somehow decided he would work in marine biology and conservation. Ever since he reached his teens, he has dedicated time to this passion, working and volunteering in various roles on nature reserves and in aquariums. It was no surprise that in 2007, he left home to study marine biology at the University of Newcastle.

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