Antarctica Adventures Part 4
In her 5-part series, Hollie, a Year 6 at Burgh School, is documenting the travels of a Lincolnshire businessman who is on the voyage of a lifetime. In Part 1 you can follow adventurer Jon Allerton’s journey to Ushuaia. In Part 2 you can check how his preparations are progressing and learn some interesting facts about the world’s southernmost city. Part 3 takes you on to the Falklands Islands!
Now it’s time to set sail to South Georgia – the final stepping stone to Antarctica.
‘the largest creatures ever to have lived’
A day after their ship left the Falklands two Blue Whales were seen. They are quite rare and even the captain was excited! They are the largest creatures ever to have lived on earth. Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant and their hearts are as big as a car!
The females only give birth once every three years. Her calf is suckled in the water, greedily drinking more than 600 litres of milk each day. In its first year, a baby gains the weight of an adult human every day!
Blue whales have few predators but have been known to be attacked by sharks and killer whales. Many are injured or die each year from impacts with large ships but the captain of Jon’s ship was careful to steer well wide of them.
‘the first iceberg was spotted’
More excitement followed, when the first iceberg was spotted. It rose 40 meters out of the water and was 3 miles long! Its top was perfectly smooth, inviting for any ice skaters on board maybe – but definitely not recommended!
Often Jon’s ship would bump into icebergs, the small ones were called growlers and the bigger ones were nicknamed bergy bits. Most of the icebergs are underwater with, at most, a quarter visible. The ship has an extra strong hull to deal with these icy hazards.
Let’s check the Captain’s log:
‘Captain James Cook was the first to land’
South Georgia’s Salisbury Plain is a broad coastal plain found with the Bay of Isles on the north coast of South Georgia. It lies between the mouths of Grace and Lucas glaciers.
By the way, the famous Captain James Cook was the first to land here on January 17, 1775. He named the island after our King George III.
Nowadays, visits ashore are strictly controlled, boots have to be scrubbed clean beforehand, no litter can be left behind and you are not allowed to spend a penny either!
‘forever be connected with Sir Ernest Shackleton’
South Georgia will forever be connected with Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of our great British Explorers. He was knighted for his famous polar expeditions.
In 1914 he attempted to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, but his ship, Endurance, got trapped in ice. The vessel was being crushed slowly and the crew had to camp on the ice, until it gradually broke up, allowing them to escape in their lifeboats and cross stormy seas to Elephant Island and then back to South Georgia.
In 1922, on his fourth to Antarctica, he suffered a heart attack and was buried in the whalers’ cemetery at Grytviken Station, South Georgia.
‘bad reputation for brutal whaling’
From 1904 to 1966, South Georgia was the centre of the huge Southern Ocean whaling industry. It had a very bad reputation for brutal whaling.
In the first year, 183 whales were slaughtered and this increased to a record figure of just under 8000 in1926. These wonderful creatures were killed for their oil, as were seals. A total of nearly half a million seals – mostly giant elephant seals – were killed.
Since the end of whaling activities 40 years ago, wildlife has slowly returned to the island.
There was a huge colony of king penguins, too many to count
Jon found the scenery incredible and the wildlife amazing. There was a huge colony of king penguins, too many to count, and you could see wandering albatross in their nesting grounds.
As it’s summer, the whales, seals and seabirds were able to feast on the little shrimps (krill) that filled the sea.
For Jon, meeting the animals was the most enjoyable experience. “They are so friendly. They just do not fear man! Or woman!” he says.
The passengers enjoyed leaving the ship in the small Zodiac boats, which stored enough provisions for 24 hours.
In these waters the hump back whale was quite a common site. They hunt in groups and can dive to a depth of 3km to find those little shrimps!
The sheer numbers of wildlife was difficult for Jon to take in. South Georgia is home to roughly 300,000 elephant seals, 3 million fur seals, and 25 species of breeding birds, including wandering albatrosses. The gravel beach at St. Andrews Bay has a king penguin rookery of 100,000. (They’d take up every single seat at Wembley stadium!)
The captain’s log now reads:
After exploring the delights of Gold Harbour and Royal Bay, it’s time to move on.
Excitement is mounting on board the ship, which is now heading for Elephant Island, an ice-covered mountainous island off the coast of Antarctica.
If you’ve followed Jon so far, I know you’ll be eager to read my final article, but you will have to wait because I’m now on my Easter holidays. But don’t worry, my final Part 5 will be published soon after I’m back at school!
Hollie, Year 6