Gold Harbour was overcast, the black sand and grey water reflecting the incoming clouds. Its hanging glaciers loomed above us, the bright ice dimmed as drizzle spattered for the first time in days. Our astonishing run of beautiful weather was ending and the swell was building.
The volcanic beach was busy. Elephant seals play-boxed in the shallows. A pair would rear and bellow for a few moments before collapsing again with great exasperated sighs. Nothing stops the itching when you're that big and all your skin’s coming off. The lovely picture of seals debating some matter is by Lynden.
The huge beasts are known as elephants not so much for their size as the floppy proboscis on the bull’s nose. It doesn't do the squirty drinking thing. Instead it's a sounding mechanism. According to www.marinebio.net
By inflating the proboscis and vocalizing into it, a large male can use this to threaten other nearby males. This is done as the male rears up, holding its body up with its front flippers to the maximum height, throwing its head back and vocalizing a series of deep sounds called 'clap-threats. Often, this threat posture and the sound is enough to make all other males retreat.
Gold Harbour is also home to lots of penguins. Gentoo and kings mostly, who march on their highway up and down the beach in the usual determined style. The underwing areas I mentioned before are pinkish where the skin shows through on the gentoo penguin. One king penguin was very interested in Mats, demonstrating that the flapping is also for balance and display. Maybe even for semaphore. (In the background you can also see Leen, our doctor, telling some over-curious fur seals to leave him alone.)
The change in the weather was the onset of Autumn, but death had already made its presence felt here. On the black sand, gloved feet and ruffled feathers posed like a Victorian memento mori of the short summer and the millions of chicks.
We spent the night anchored at Gold Harbour rocked in the increasing waves as the wind grew. I went to sleep hoping we would reach the last bay and see the Macaroni penguins at their colony on the eastern end of South Georgia.