We came around to the island’s northeast side, planning for a dawn landing at Admiralty Bay, with its enormous colony of King Penguins. Alas, a large groundswell delivered a surf that precluded landing. Undaunted, we traveled over to Moultke Harbor, where we could get out of the swell.
Here amid spectacular peaks of ice and bare rock cliffs, glaciers and a wide river valley, we landed among a large group of elephant seals and scattered bands of King Penguins.
It seems likely that no one would want to come back in a next life as an elephant seal. What looks at first like a lot of lounging very soon reveals itself as a hard struggle for existence. Being a male seems particularly unpleasant, as I mentioned previously, since few males who defend harems last more than a year, and soon thereafter die from the toll of constant combat.
Searching the ridges, I soon saw numerous Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses. Many flew in their synchronized courtship flights. So, determined for better looks and a good frame or two, I scrambled high up a scree slope until I was near a rock outcrop on whose ledges the birds were calling, landing, and courting.
The Light-mantled Sooty Albatross has been called the Siamese cat of the bird world. And for their looks and exceptional flying grace, they are one of my favorites.
A while later we cruised to Gold Harbor, site of one of South Georgia’s largest King Penguin assemblages. Even from a great distance you could see that the beaches held plenty of adults and plenty of large wooly chicks in thick brown down. Plenty of elephant seals here, too. At times, penguins face a daunting task of getting ashore through a wide band of elephant sea bodies and must climb up and over them. And though the penguins don’t care about people at all, they have the sense to run from rampaging elephant seals.
How parent penguins can recognize their own chicks’ voices in these moving mobs is a wonder of evolution and devotion. But everything depends on the fact that they do.