Daily Expedition Reports

Daily reports from our days in the field


  • Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands

    The National Geographic Orion dipped below 60 degrees south latitude for a quick stop at Coronation Island en route to Elephant Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. Not only does this put us officially into Antarctica for treaty purposes, but we have clearly moved into a colder and more severe climate regime. Fog and low clouds routinely drape the western point of the Island, which hosts thousands of chinstrap penguins lining all available shorelines along this part of the coast.  Luckily the wind, clouds, and sea cooperated enough to allow a landing on the small beach, where the penguins entertained all who made it ashore. By mid-morning we were again on our way across the open sea, avoiding pack ice in a freshening southerly wind, as we roughly paralleled Shackleton’s perilous passage to South Georgia in reverse.

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  • Coronation Island, South Orkney Islands

    For the first time in a decade National Geographic Explorer sailed to the western extent of the South Orkney Islands, bound for Coronation Island. Favorable wind conditions on our passage from South Georgia presented this rare opportunity. On arrival, conditions were less inviting with strong wind creating challenges within our anchorage. First order of business was to deploy the depth sounding Zodiac. Chief mate Aaron Wood traveled back and forth in the inlet to gather bathymetric data for our anchorage. Next, our fleet of Zodiacs was deployed to explore this rarely visited piece of our planet. It’s hard to believe that so many chinstrap penguins can survive in such a harsh environment—120,000 to be precise. From the slopes of ice all around us, we also managed to pick out a small handful of Adélie penguins, a new species for most of us.

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  • Leaving South Georgia for Coronation Island

    Sunday found us underway across the Scotia Sea after bidding a sad farewell to South Georgia Island. It had been a sun-filled visit, but it seemed that bad weather was on the horizon, so our best bet was to head out of the Drygalski Fjord Saturday evening and sail southeast toward Coronation Island. The Scotia Sea is the area of water between Tierra del Fuego, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula. Normally stormy and cold, the weather for our voyage was tolerable with maximum 4-5 meter seas and 30 knot winds. Dinnertime found us rolling into fog with radar showing a 3km tabular iceberg off in the distance. This could have thrown an unexpected delay into our plans, but around midnight the fog cleared and National Geographic Orion sailed off at the expected speed.

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  • At Sea towards the South Orkneys

    Sea days are a perfect time for reflection, especially after the jam-packed week we had in South Georgia. We are en route to the South Orkneys, but it will take a full day and two nights to get there. Some of us slept in a little, while others visited the bridge early—as usual—to get the first crack at the daily bird list.

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  • Gold Harbour, South Georgia

    The last morning in South Georgia led National Geographic Orion to Gold Harbour for an early morning landing. Dawn patrol offers the guests the opportunity to view the incredible swath of wildlife available on this island in the early morning golden light. The natural history staff cruised ashore at 5:00 a.m., set up a landing and prepared for guests. The guests began heading to shore at 5:30 for a pre-breakfast jaunt in the wild. Gold Harbour is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful visitor sites. King penguins, gentoos, elephant seals, and fur seals jostle for space on this extensive beach, ever more beautiful in the morning light. Breeding elephant seals, young pups, and molting penguins are some of the consistent sights here at Gold Harbour. The elephant seals are particularly adorable in their youth with their massive eyes and chubby bodies. Those eyes are ridiculously cute, but also serve an important purpose. Elephant seals are extreme deep divers, able to reach depths of nearly two miles in one single dive. They can hold their breath for an hour and a half (remember, they are air-breathing mammals) by shunting the oxygen into their myoglobin rich muscle. The beautiful big eyes that draw visitors in exhibit tiny pinhole pupils while on land. Deep down in the dark ocean, however, these small pupils expand to take up the entire ocular space. The ability to take in only a tiny amount of light, but in great quantities, allows them to see well enough to hunt their favorite meal of squid at depth.

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  • Prion Island & Fortuna Bay

    Prion Island is an important breeding site for several species of birds, including the endemic South Georgia pipit and South Georgia pintail as well as wandering albatross, common diving petrels, white-chinned petrels, and Antarctic prions. Several of these species, particularly the pipits have almost been confined to the island due to the infestation of rats in the last 100 years and so when we landed we were pleased to be greeted to their chirps and their presence. Thankfully pipits in the last several years have spread over a large part of South Georgia due to the (hopeful) eradication of rats.

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  • Grytviken and Hercules Bay

    Today was steeped in history and wildlife. Grytviken lies within King Edward Cove on South Georgia. The history of whaling started here in 1904 and ended by 1964. The South Georgia Museum today chronicles this era for our guests perusal. Wildlife has returned to the shores of the cove, as was evidenced by numerous slumbering southern elephant seals strewn along the shoreline along with feisty fur seals. A few molting king penguins added a splash of color. Hercules Bay was our cruising destination for the afternoon, the highlights included sunshine, blue skies, and a colony of macaroni penguins along the shore and nestled in the tussock grass. We are grateful to see the end of the whaling era and the return of the natural inhabitants to the island.  

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  • Godthul & Grytviken, South Georgia

    This morning the National Geographic Explorer woke up on the hook in Jason Harbor in Cumberland Bay to an absolutely stunning day. The Allardyce Range was in full sun and as we pulled away from our anchorage we were exposed for the first time to the rugged nature of the mountains, which make this island in the Subantarctic so dramatic. Continuing down the coast we pulled into Godthul (meaning Good Cove in Norwegian) and pursued our preference either on foot or Zodiac. At the landing, we encountered evidence of bygone whaling days and the remnants of the floating factories that operated in Godthul from 1908-1928. As we negotiated our way up through the tussock we encountered the occasional snarl of the fur seal and were glad when we got out of the thick grass for ease of walking and absence of the eared seal with a territorial disposition. As we emerged to more open country we discovered evidence of reindeer that have since been eradicated. In 1911, ten animals were introduced to nearby Ocean Harbor on the Barff Peninsula as a reminder of home for the Norwegian whalers and for hunting. Unfortunately the three reindeer introductions on South Georgia were in some of the most biologically productive areas and by 2000 it was realized that the reindeer must go. After eradications in 2013 and 2014 the reindeer, like the rats, are considered to no longer be present, albeit the monitoring continues. Climbing further up, the hikers had incredible views of the surroundings (and gentoo penguins) while those in Zodiacs enjoyed the incredibly rich shoreline of Godthul.

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  • Right Whale Harbor and Prion Island, South Georgia, Southern Ocean, Planet Earth

    Our first day on South Georgia did not disappoint. A magical place that is far removed from everywhere and yet rich beyond anywhere. The island and islets that make up this place have warmer air then the Antarctic continent and yet the same rich waters, teeming with life, which fosters all kinds of delightful animals. We were fortunate enough to make a morning landing at Right Whale Bay, where we encountered fur and elephant seals, king and gentoo penguins, glaciers, mountains, and majesty. In the afternoon we visited the historic and stunning Prion Island where we met wandering albatross and light-mantled albatross.

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