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Published: February 23rd 2010
Antarctic Fur Seal Pup
they are so cute and playful you could spend the whole day sat on the beach with them
After 36hrs of bobbing around looking at land (well ok - mostly low cloud with the occasional glimpse of land) we have finally managed to set foot on South Georgia. The force 12 storm has died down but there are still strong swells (apparently they takes several hours to subside after a storm) so most of the beaches have big waves rolling in and crashing on them Luckily, there is one tiny sheltered spot where the swells are smaller and we manage to land. Our destination is the King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain - its only a mile away but it takes an age to get there as the entire route is full of wildlife that seems to want to play.
On the landing beach the Antarctic fur seal pups come charging right up to you to get a closer look with their big puppy dog eyes - they are exceedingly cute and cuddly. Walking through the tussac grass the pups and adults like to hide behind a tussac then jump out on you barking as you go past - they don't seem bothered, its almost like they are treating you as another seal who's trying to muscle in
on their comfy mound of tussac. Out on the plain some adults just look at you then roll over while others charge you but as soon as you stop, stand your ground and look directly at them they go all shy and put on an 'I wasn't really charging you I was just coming over to look at this interesting pebble' act. Its all great fun and difficult to decide if you should stay and play some more or keep on walking to the penguin colony.
In amongst the fur seals there are a few elephant seals lolling around, they absolutely dwarf the fur seals, even the pups are larger than the adult fur seals. They don't do much, a casual turn of the head to watch you pass is as energetic as it gets. There's even a leopard seal on the beach. He cannot be described as cute and cuddly - he has a mouth full of sharp pointy teeth and an almost crocodile like grin. When he eyes you up its has a 'a wonder if I can eat them' feel to it rather than the 'I wonder if they want to play' feel you get from
making our way through the tussac grass
and trying to stay 5m away from the seals - its quite tricky when there are this many of them
the fur seals.
There's a lot of King penguins loitering around making their way to and from the colony. They look absolutely magnificent in their black, white and orange plumage. Its amazing how each species of penguin has their own character. The smaller penguins are real comedians bustling about the place but the kings have a grace and elegance about them - king is a good name for them, they have a definite air of grandeur. They're still curious though and when you stand still they walk over to investigate you and your belongings. You are supposed to stay 5m away from the wildlife but somebody has forgotten to tell the wildlife this rule!!
Eventually we make it to the penguin colony. There's over 200,000 birds here and they make quite an impact stretching away into the distance up the hill side. What's fascinating is that all the stages are visible; eggs being incubated on the adults feet, the chicks in their 'oakum boys' plumage looking like they're wearing brown fluffy fur coats, moulting juveniles that have lost half their fur coat revealing the adult plumage underneath, there are even some birds courting and mating, starting the cycle
crossing the plains towards the penguin colony
you can see it in the background spreading up onto the hillside
over again. You can sit for ages just watching, its very relaxing and therapeutic.
Its not just penguins, there are other birds around as well. Normally we wouldn't pay them much attention but being with bird watchers they get pointed out and turn out to be quite exciting as well; the South Georgian Pintail and South Georgia Pipit only occur here, the pipit is the only song bird in Antarctica and the pintail is the world's only carnivorous duck!!! Its sounds like it should look big and scary but it just looks like a normal duck waggling its tail as it paddles along on the water. There are several giant petrels nesting and when you see them up close on the ground you realise just how big they actually are.
We spent over 3 hours wandering round but its just not long enough - you really could spend all day sat in one spot enjoying the wildlife that comes up to visit you. Now we have 2 more days of landing to look forward too. Fingers crossed that the swells die down and the sun comes out.
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