One of the harshest and most isolated
islands in the world South Georgia is stunning to behold. Most of the island is
covered with jagged mountains and treacherous glaciers. However, close to the
sea there are sheltered valleys and bays which provide a habitat for a wide array
of wildlife. One such valley contains the now abandoned whaling station of Stromness.
This whaling station operated with many other on the island right up until the
1960's when whaling was finally banned. In the intervening thirty years nature
has gradually reclaimed the old buildings, with the elephant seals particularly
enjoying the shelter afforded by the old tin sheds.
When whaling first began at Stromness whales were so common that it was two years
before the whalers needed to hunt away from the island itself. Now, despite the
ongoing ban, great whales are still a comparitively rare sight and we can only
hope that the populations of many species haven't been pushed too far.
The now abandoned whaling stations of South Georgia are like small towns, each
having it's own tool shops, accomodation and warehouses. The remoteness of South
Georgia meant that nearly everything from screws to boat engines had to be built
or repaired on-site. Today you can still find rooms full of nuts and bolts, all
sorted into size and shape for quick access. The warehouses contain boxes of old
machine parts, huge lengths of rope and thousands of harpoon heads. The harpoon
heads shown in the picture were attached to two metre long shafts and loaded with
explosive charges - all too effective.
In the shelter afforded by the coastal valleys of South Georgia pockets of lush
plant life have been able to grow. In fact, once you get out of the almost incessant
wind, it can get warm enough to wear only t-shirt (well, for a few minutes anyway!).
The colour of the stream is a result of sheets of algae growing along it's margins.
With a plentiful supply of 'fertilizer' from the seals and penguins such algae
can grow very quickly during the short lived summer. In more exposed areas few
plants can survive, with only small algae and lichens occasionally able to grow.
The journey of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men really brings it home how tough
those old explorers must have been. Even today few people have successfully traversed
the mountains of South Gerogia. If you combine this with a crossing of the Southern
Ocean in an adapted lifeboat you realise these men were something special. Click
on the image to enlarge and read.
You will find many pictures of the
wildlife of South Georgia in the Penguin and Seal pages. Look out for the pictures
of seals which have now taken up residence in the old whaling station.
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