We sailed round yesterday afternoon to Royal Bay and went ashore in the dinghy for a walk. Elephant seal cows wallowed in the gritty sand, either about to or having just given birth to this season’s pups. These scraggy black bags of loose mammalian flesh appeared to be just clinging to life, and indeed several of them had already lost the battle. Skuas picked indifferently over the remains, rising in a sudden crowd to converge on the afterbirth of the latest arrival.
The huge scarred bulls snorted and bared their teeth at us, probosces wobbling as they flung back their heads, but despite their size they are too ungainly on land to be a threat. One eye out for the younger bulls hovering at the edge of the herd, they rest and wait for their harem to finish weaning the current young so they can get started on production of the next lot.
Spring comes to South Georgia.
This afternoon we are at anchor in nearby St Andrew’s Bay where there is a vast colony of king penguins. I wandered through the hordes, speculating on the evidently complex patterns of penguin social behaviour and wondering if the hierarchies might be just as subtly nuanced as those governing interrelationships of the New York Yacht Club and Royal Yacht Squadron members.
The penguins are moulting and they stand with their shoulders hunched, itchy-looking and vulnerable as the wind scours away the old feathers and whirls them into the air like fish-scented snowflakes. On the beach we found a similar scene to yesterday’s: hundreds of elephant seals, skua-pecked calves, bloody scars and a general sense of red in tooth and claw. Nature down here isn’t soft or pretty or cute in any way at all. Dick and I agreed as we stood shivering in a scouring wind off the glacier that we felt rather depressed to contemplate it. We came back to the boat for tea and scones.