The Scenic South Orkneys

Friday 1 March 2024­ – In following Shackleton’s route, i.e. heading towards South Georgia, the benign conditions and lack of icebergs in the way had enabled the skipper to make sufficiently good progress that Pippa could plan an extra stop, rather than just blatting our way directly to South Georgia.  So we found ourselves at Shingle Cove, which is on Coronation Island, part of the South Orkneys.  In sunshine! And light winds!!

The sunshine made the scenery quite spectacular.


But equally, we could see that we were in Iceberg Alley, so once again the captain had done a good job of not bumping into anything.

This meant we could undertake a brief expedition from Hondius. The specifics of the timing meant a slightly unusual sequence of events – Blue Group went before lunch and Orange Group after – but it was nice to get off the ship in light winds and sunshine.

The landing area was, unsurprisingly, a shingle beach, or at least a beach with small stones on it rather than inconveniently large boulders. Right by where we climbed out of the Zodiacs were several elephant seals, one of which, although not a full-grown adult, was quite huge.

You can see that his size dwarfs the other seals on the same stretch of beach.  You could tell he wasn’t full grown because his nose hadn’t grown out into the elephantine proboscis that marks out adult elephant seals; but you can see it starting to develop.

Even if he wasn’t fully grown, he was nonetheless an impressive sight.

Eventually he got fed up with people staring at him and lumbered off to face away from us, looking like nothing so much as a grumpy Vogon.  Well, all Vogons are grumpy, so I suppose that’s a bit tautological.

The views from the island continued to be spectacular.

but there were other things to be seen apart from just the view. Turning one way led us to a glacier that was unusual in that it debouched on to land rather than the sea.

And heading the other way led to what was once a colony of penguins.  Since all the chicks had fledged, there were actually very few penguins left

and the main inhabitants of the island were seals, mainly elephant but with a leavening of fur seals.

There was somewhat gruesome evidence of the demise of many penguins

but we weren’t sure whether these had been predated or had just expired.  There were skuas around

and these are sufficiently nasty pieces of work that they might p-pick a p-penguin if they felt p-peckish.

The rocks that lay around on the walk were very colourful in places

and the paths that the landing party had marked out for us with red poles led past rocks decorated with moss and a striking orange lichen

that we were enjoined to be careful not to walk on, as it is fragile and takes centuries to grow.  And all the way along our walks there were more seals, all of whom were evidently conserving energy, since they moved not a muscle as we went by.

One of the main reasons for their lack of movement was that they are moulting.  Like penguins, these seals undergo what’s called a “catastrophic moult”.  Here’s a good example.

During the moult, they cannot go into the water to feed, so conserving energy is an important tactic.

Apart from the bit where I fell over, slightly damaging both my camera and my wife in the same moment of clumsiness*, the expedition was a delight, partly because of the scenery and partly because of the sunshine.  We headed back to Hondius, which eventually set off in the general direction of South Georgia, passing south of the South Orkneys and providing the passengers with views of blowing whales and some more wonderful scenery.

There were many vast icebergs, as big as apartment blocks.


There were also a handful of fishing vessels nearby

which we reckon were probably fishing for krill.  Whilst this is not illegal, there are supposed to be quotas for krill fishing; but there’s no policing mechanism, and there is a significant danger (and some evidence) of krill overfishing.  Although these small shrimp-like creatures are astonishingly plentiful, the human appetite for them for purposes that are unnecessary – omega-3 supplements, skin care products, dog food (!) and, most irritatingly of all, food that will turn farmed salmon a more marketable shade of pink – is not only endangering the food chain, since practically everything is utterly dependent upon krill, but also contributing to climate change, since Antarctic krill (if left to themselves) sequester more carbon from the atmosphere than the Amazon rain forests.  This is a sobering message, and one hopes that people will come to understand the seriousness of the situation and start changing purchasing decisions away from products which use krill or krill oil.

One can but hope that matters will improve.  Indeed, the way the Antarctic has been internationally recognised as an important part of the planet is evidenced by the international Antarctic treaty, originally signed up to by 12 member countries and now involving some 27, either as claiming some territorial rights or wishing to enter the area for research purposes.  The conditions of the treaty lay down strict rules about what may and may not be done in the region. It’s heartening to know that countries, even ones which traditionally compete such as USA and Russia, can work together for some kind of common good.  As we head for South Georgia, leave the Antarctic and cross the 60th parallel heading north, I feel better educated about the critical importance of this region, with even a glimmer of hope that the human race might not, for once, fuck something up.



* Not too seriously, thank goodness.  However, my wife will repair herself, but the camera, whilst still capable of taking pictures, is going to need a visit to a service centre.

12 thoughts on “The Scenic South Orkneys

    1. Steve Walker Post author

      It won’t switch off properly and there are a couple of other faults, such as exposure compensation not working. But the fundamental pictures seem – so far – to be OK. It’ll cost a lot to fix, I expect.

        1. Steve Walker Post author

          Jane is fine, I’m glad to say. I was walking in some rocks and tripped. The camera hit the rocks with a thump. I’m glad it still takes photos, but would much prefer if it were working properly in all respects.

  1. Katharine C Burridge

    Spectacular place – not so much for long walks! Fascinated about the krill. 1st I have heard of that. I will be vigilant.

  2. Val Russell

    Absolutely superb! Thoroughly enjoying this, thanks. Astonishing photos, congratulations Steve and Jane

  3. Karin Wennås

    I hope Jane is ok
    Are you mainly alone out there or are there other cruises or expeditions?
    What are the nationality of the other passengers? Just curious!

    1. Steve Walker Post author

      There a system rather like Airbnb where expedition operators can reserve an area for a morning or an afternoon, so that other ships won’t go there at that time.


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