Gold Harbour and St Andrews Bay South Georgia
15 February 2022
Gold Harbour lays at the bottom of the Bertrab Glacier. The ocean was calm and we spotted several blows in the distance. We identified two Humpback whales and one Fin whale. Later, we went to shore on the inflatable boats. It’s a unique experience walking into a full colony of penguins! They are so majestic, funny and inquisitive. We couldn’t stop looking at them and admiring their colours, listening to their honky calls and inquiring about their behaviours. We also saw cute Antarctic fur seals (Arctrocephalus gazella) pups and adults, farting elephant seals (Mirounga leonina), snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus), South Georgia pipits (Anthus antarcticus), brown skuas (Stercorarius antarcticus), gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) and wondering albatros (Diomedea sp.)
The king penguins already had chicks by this time of the year, the chicks are half grown and were moulting. They look like awkward teenagers waiting for their nice feathers to grow. The adults also moult. We spotted groups of three penguins, two smaller and one taller. The two smaller penguins kept slapping at each other with their fins, trying to get closer to the larger penguin (we assumed the larger one was a female). They took breaks and then, the slapping started again. It was like a Venezuelan telenovela. The two boisterous males trying to get the attention of the female!
We imagine the dialogue, it will go like this:
Penguin 1: move away Ricardo Alberto, Maria Josefa de los Dolores is MINE!
Penguin 2: look at yourself in the mirror Ramon Felipe, you are short and chubby, Maria Josefa de los Dolores will NEVER be yours.
Slap, slap, slap..
Then Ricardo Alberto tries to get closer to Maria Josefa de los Dolores, Ramon Felipe slaps him again, Maria Josefa de los Dolores tries to walk away, no can do. They don’t let her.
More slapping, repeat twenty more times. More walking, more slapping.
Finally, we don’t know how, but she picked one. Which one? We don’t know. All penguins look the same.
Side note: when will choreographers realize that penguins are stylish, funny and dramatic and they should use them as inspiration for a Penguin Ballet? Much more interesting that the nutcracker, just saying.
The scientific bit:
We found out that King Penguins have a high rate of divorce. Their divorce rate can be as high as 80% and this may be related to limited food resources at the start of the breeding season, preventing them to wait for their late returning mate. They take more than a year to rear their chick, 14 months elapse from courtship to fledging the chick (1)
We also saw cute Antarctic fur seals (Arctrocephalus gazella) pups and adults, farting elephant seals (Mirounga leonina), snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus), South Georgia pipits (Anthus antarcticus), brown skuas (Stercorarius antarcticus), gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) wondering albatros (Diomedea sp.)
1. Reference: South Georgia by Robert Burton, 2012. The government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Ed.