South Georgia

Mar 14, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

Morning sunshine poured over the silhouetted outlines of Bird Island as we powered toward our destination. The dappled light, like the eyes of god, enhanced and highlighted macaroni penguin rookeries nestled into the hillside. Wandering, black-browed, and grey-headed albatross soared around the ship like paragliders. But it was the hundreds of Antarctic prions, flying around the bow of the vessel, that really captured the imaginations of those on the bridge.

Suddenly, we were not alone—whale blows on the horizon. Binoculars trained on their position, we moved slowly toward them. First, fin whales—a good number too, as we passed over a shelf edge deep below us. Then, humpbacks. Visible flukes and soft, puffy blows. Then a species so rare we hardly dared to believe our eyes—blue whales! Blue, mottled skin and short dorsals—an incredible encounter. But the excitement wasn’t over quite yet. Just ahead, steaming toward us—southern right whales! A cow and a calf. An incredible encounter with such a rare and wonderful species.

After our exciting morning, we pressed on toward Right Whale Bay, named for the abundance of whales found here during whaling times. As we headed to shore, king penguins and Antarctic fur seals—the first of each we’d spotted—lined the beaches, waiting to meet us. We wandered around the beaches and tussock grass, mesmerized by the amazing animals. The afternoon passed quickly, full of sights, sounds, and smells of a king penguin colony.

After dinner, we jumped into Zodiacs for one last adventure for the day—an evening cruise around the Welcome Islands. This small archipelago, formed from volcanoclastic sediments with steeply uplifted strata, yielded a rather lovely cave system that we were able to see from the inside via Zodiac!

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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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