Nov 28, 2019 - National Geographic Orion
We awoke early to be greeted by low-lying fog in Fortuna Bay. The air was crisp and the seas were calm; it was a still and peaceful morning. Much of our group went ashore at Fortuna Bay to follow in Shackleton’s footsteps. Led by a GPS and skillful naturalists, they hiked 6 kilometers with 300 meters in elevation gain through tussock, snow, gravel, mud, and glacial plains to meet the rest of our group in Stromness Harbour. This hike is historically significant and we pondered the hardships Shackleton and his men endured. We felt privileged to be here. We knew Thanksgiving lunch was coming up, so it was great to do an early morning turkey trot to stretch our legs and burn off the pumpkin pie that was in our near future (the view from the top was incredible!).
The ship repositioned to Stromness Harbour, an old whaling station where Skackleton ended is South Georgia crossing. The grey sandy beach was scattered with boisterous fur seals and we especially loved seeing the pups. This U-shaped valley contains a waterfall and is flanked by striking scree slopes. The silty bottom allowed us to sail National Geographic Orion incredibly close to shore; as always, we were impressed with the skill of our bridge team. While the natural history team led hikes on shore, the undersea team went scuba diving to help people get a better glimpse at what subsists beneath temperatures of two degrees Celcius. The undersea program is unique to Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic, and is an excellent way to help capture the big-picture of the ecosystem. While seeing all of the birds and pinnipeds on land, it is important to remember that they are creatures of the sea and their abundance in this area is supported by a healthy marine ecosystem. The divers saw a multitude of invertebrates, a favorite being the Labidiaster sea star – a creature that grows to 36 cm and can have nearly 50 arms!
Hurcules Bay, named in the early 1900s by Norwegian whalers, is where we spent our afternoon. We explored the protected bay via Zodiac and got some close views of the macaroni penguin colonies. Fur seals and elephant seals hauled out on the beach while terns, sheathbills, and shags flew overhead. The bay was filled with two main species of kelp: Macrocystis pyrifera and Durvillaea antarctica. We were able to pull some kelp into our boats to study the similarities and differences. Today we are thankful for stunning weather, good company, and the opportunity to explore one of Earth’s most precious wilderness areas.
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