Halloween found us in Fortuna Bay; dawn revealed a fog-shrouded South Georgia Island.
Probably the scariest thing about this Halloween was news that the world’s human population is now 7 billion. The implications of this encompass everything. And while pundits and bloggers argue over whether rich or poor people are worst for the planet, I can assure you that 7 billion reduces everyone’s fair chances at a dignified future. Rich people use too much. Poor people use too much, too. I’ve never seen a place that is both poor and crowded with ample clean fresh water, wood, or wildilfe. We just need far fewer people in every and all income brackets. Three billion was plenty.
In snow flurries we went ashore to spend time with King Penguins. Highlight of this morning was a melanistic King, with an all-black belly. It spent a while feeding a chick, affording good looks and the unanswerable question of whether this big wooly chick would grow up dark-bellied, too.
How can King Penguins have such large chicks this early in the southern spring? Their breeding season takes more than one year. (This is unique among penguins, and in fact unique among birds with the exception of several of the albatrosses.) These big wooly chicks hatched last January, are now 10 months old. They will leave in about three months. Their parents will then move to a second breeding cycle, hatching in the austral autumn, around March. But birds breeding during that second cycle often lose chicks to the next oncoming winter. They will then try again, and their next chicks will hatch in November, giving them better survival prospects.
Later we went over to Stromness, site of a now-abandoned whaling station. Here we enjoyed a 4-mile round-trip walk up a wide, shallow braided-river bed to a waterfall at the head of the valley.
Ernest Shackleton’s final sprint to the safety and rescue of the whaling station took him over the ridge behind this waterfall and down this valley. The heights here are so ragged and sharp-fanged that many of the ridges have fins rather than peaks. When you assess the valley’s ringing mountains, his party’s 3-day march over this island to here seems nearly impossible.
For an added treat we walked up to a colony of Gentoo Penguins. Many incubated eggs; some birds were still building nests.
Of the whaling station itself, the only thing good to say is that it lies in ruins.