Grytviken and Nordenskjöld Glacier

Nov 29, 2019 - National Geographic Orion

The day started early in the beautiful mountain-lined harbor of Maiviken, the beaches that draw into the crystal blue sea were lined with the usual suspects; Antarctic fur seals and southern elephant seals, growling and parping respectively. These seals, however, are the study subjects of British Antarctic Survey scientists, based at King Edwards Point, a 3.5-kilometer walk away, through the mountains. We landed on the beach to walk the route through the pass, which started with an incredible upward scramble through tussock grass and streambeds.

The hike was two hours of pure magic – incredible views, beautiful wildlife and an incredible reveal as we headed ‘round the corner to the old whaling station of Grytviken. Grytviken was an active whaling station right up to the early 1960s, spare for a few years during the Second World War. Set up in the early 1900s by famed Antarctic explorer Carl Larsen, Grytviken was the first whaling station on the tiny island of South Georgia, which quickly became the global hub of modern, commercial whaling. A dark chapter in man’s relationship with nature.

We were treated to tours of the old whaling station and enjoyed a wander around the excellently appointed onsite museum, before our esteemed naturalist and resident bird specialist Karen Velas, led a heartfelt toast to “the boss” Ernest Shackleton at his grave in the cemetery nearby the whaling station.

After we all rejoined the ship and had a tasty lunch, we were joined by Sarah from the South Georgia Heritage Trust, who spoke to us about the incredible and deeply effective work of the Trust in the eradication of the invasive rodents, which had so threatened the native bird populations.

We left Grytviken with a sense of reverence; the weight of so much loss, balanced with the knowledge of new life clawed from dogged perseverance. Soon we were repositioned at Nordenskjöld Glacier for an afternoon of Zodiac cruising, and what cruises we had! The glacier truly delivered – the air was filled with a flurry of terns and snow petrels and the waters with incredible, artistic icebergs and the odd king penguin. The glacier calved repeatedly and impressively sending out great sighs of waves – both impressive and somewhat troubling.

Recap and dinner saw the day draw to a close, perhaps our best yet so far in beautiful 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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