Rugged and Windswept

Crescent-shaped South Georgia is an island of mountain tops permanently covered in thick layers of ice and snow and beaches full of Antarctic wildlife.

The Wild Rules Here

It’s estimated 30 million birds call the island home—from 7 million penguins to 250,000 albatrosses—and half of the world’s entire population of Southern Elephant seals.

About South Georgia

The South Atlantic Ocean, southeast of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia rises steeply from the sea. It forms a crescent-shaped landscape abundant in glaciers and sheer, rugged peaks believed to be once part of the greater Andean Mountain range of South America. South Georgia’s expansive and frayed coastline stands stark against the South Atlantic Ocean. Contrasting with the ocean, we see eleven mountain peaks looming above 7,000 feet and an estimated 160 glaciers peppered among them.

Though it appears forbidding, this wayward island set more than 1000 miles east of the tip of South America has won the allure of explorers past and present. Permanently be memorialized, South Georgia is as the land where famed British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton perished after his first-ever crossing of the island in 1916 following the collapse of his unsuccessful Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition.

Under British rule since the 1700s—when the famed Captain James Cook first landed on South Georgia and launched its rise as a whaling outpost—the island is host to one of the highest concentrations of wildlife on Earth. It’s estimated 30 million breeding birds call the island home—from 7 million penguins to 250,000 albatrosses—and half of the world’s entire population of southern elephant seals.

Icebergs in South Georgia. Photography by Rodrigo Moraga on an Antarctica & South Georgia Air-Cruise.
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Wildlife

Gentoo Penguin in Antarctica. Photography by Anais Rekus on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.
Macaroni penguin in the Falklands
A couple of king penguins in the Falklands
Minke whale in Antarctica.
Orcas in Antarctica. Photography by Keegan Pearson, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.
Black-browed albatross in the Falklands
Cape o Pintado Petrel photographed by Mathew Farrell on an Antarctica Express, on board Hebridean Sky.
A blue-eyed cormorant or blue-eyed shag. Photography by Ruslan Eliseev, on an Antarctica Express Air-Cruise.
Antarctic sea bird, Snowy Sheathbill. Photography by Keegan Pearson, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.
Northern giant petrel found in South Georgia. Photography by Ruslan Eliseev.
Gentoo Penguin in Antarctica. Photography by Anais Rekus on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo is the largest of all Pygoscelis penguins. It can be easily recognized by the wide white stripe extending like a bonnet across the top of its head and the red bill. Chicks have grey backs with white fronts. They are the fastest underwater swimming penguins, reaching speeds of 36 km/h. They feed mainly on krill, but also on fish and squid. They are the most numerous penguins nesting in the Antarctic region.

Macaroni penguin in the Falklands

Macaroni Penguin

This beautiful penguin has a characteristic orange tassels meeting between the eyes that distinguish this species from its slightly smaller relative, the rockhopper penguin. Macaronis nest mainly on Subantarctic islands close to the Antarctic Convergence, and may reach as far south as the Antarctic Peninsula. They lay two eggs at the end of the Austral autumn, the first being larger than the second. Chicks are uniform brownish-grey above and whitish below.

A couple of king penguins in the Falklands

King Penguin

With bright white bellies, tangerine cheeks and bills, and a golden patch parked high on their necks, king penguins are easily spotted not only for their coat and size—they’re only second in stature to the emperor penguin—but also for their dignified, upright posture. With one of the healthiest, populations of penguins in Antarctica, they’re found dispersed throughout most of the region, from the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. These convivial creatures are often seen in immense colonies of up to 200,000, with the entire population estimated at almost 3 million breeding pairs. To keep their great size, king penguins are expert divers, often submerging to 1,000 feet in search of squid, fish, and crustaceans to feed both themselves and their young. Fun fact—mature king penguins look so different from their fluffy, brown-coated chicks they were mistaken as separate species by the continent’s first researchers.

Minke whale in Antarctica.

Minke Whale

The southern minke whale is a species of minke whale within the suborder of baleen whales. It is the third smallest baleen whale. While it was first scientifically described in the mid-19th century, it wasn’t recognized as a distinct species until the 1990s. Given that it was ignored by the whaling industry due to its small size and low oil yield, the southern minke was able to avoid the fate of other baleen whales and maintained a large population into the 21st century, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It has survived to become the most abundant baleen whale in the world.

Orcas in Antarctica. Photography by Keegan Pearson, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.

Orca Whale

The orca is the largest member of the dolphin family, and it is probably the most easily recognized of all cetaceans. The most obvious feature is the enormous dorsal fin, which is the tallest and most pointed of any cetaceans. In adult males, it may stand two metres in height, while in females and immature males it is more curved and smaller. They have a striking black and white pattern from throat to abdomen, some of their flanks, and an oval blaze behind the eye white, with the rest mainly black. The huge conical head is pointed with a very slightly rounded beak. Males can reach 7 to 9 metres in length and weigh 3.8 to 5.5 tonnes. Females are noticeably smaller in overall body size, reaching 5 to 7.7 metres length.

Elephant Seal

The southern elephant seal is the world’s largest seal. It is a heavy-built, long-body seal with proportionately small flippers and some skin folds just behind the head. The dark eyes are large and round. The adults have short stiff hair, usually dark grey dorsally and paler ventrally. Males have squarer and larger heads, with a conspicuous proboscis, while females have more rounded heads with no proboscis. Breeding males may weigh up to a sixth that of a breeding female. Males can grow to 4.5-6.5 metres and 3,700 kg; females can grow to 2.5-4 metres and between 360-800 kg.

Black-browed albatross in the Falklands

Black-Browed Albatross

The black-browed albatross is one of the smaller black and white ‘mollymawks’ with a pale head. This albatross can be identified at a distance by its underwing pattern featuring a wide dark leading edge. At close range, the adult birds have a yellow eye that makes identification easy.
Size 80-96 cm
Wing 50-56 cm
Wingspan 210-250 cm
Weight 2.9 to 4.6 kg

Cape o Pintado Petrel photographed by Mathew Farrell on an Antarctica Express, on board Hebridean Sky.

Cape or Pintado Petrel

The cape petrel is an unmistakable medium-sized petrel, with a round head and highly distinctive black and white upperparts and upper wings, smaller than the Antarctic petrel. Its speckled appearance has earned its other common name, pintado, which means ‘painted’ in Spanish. The cape petrel has a circumpolar distribution at sea. It has a wide breeding range from the Antarctic continent to the more southerly Subantarctic islands, where it breeds in November and December in loose colonies on level rocky grounds or gravel, and moderately high cliffs.
Size 35-42 cm
Wing 24-28 cm
Wingspan 80-91 cm
Weight 440-500 gr.

A blue-eyed cormorant or blue-eyed shag. Photography by Ruslan Eliseev, on an Antarctica Express Air-Cruise.

Blue-Eyed Shag

There is no clear agreement on how many species of cormorants inhabit the southern islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. There could be as many as seven or as few as two surrounding Antarctica, depending on what taxonomic diversity they have. All are reasonably similar, but the Antarctic shag is unmistakable in range because no other blue-eyed shag overlaps with it. They are rather large and have a black and white shag, with a bright blue-eyed ring, with a long wispy black erectile crest.
Size 77 cm
Wing 32-33 cm
Weight 2.5-3 kg

Antarctic sea bird, Snowy Sheathbill. Photography by Keegan Pearson, on a Classic Antarctica Air-Cruise.

Snowy Sheathbill

The snowy sheathbill is a medium-sized, plump hen-like, all-white bird. They are not seabirds because, for example, their feet are not webbed, but are in their own family akin to waders. They cannot be mistaken for anything else as they strut and squabble around penguin colonies. They have elaborate courtship displays and are monogamous and permanently pair-bonded species. They feed on intertidal life and on invertebrates.
Size 34-40 cm
Wingspan 70 cm
Weight 400-700 gr.
Size 77 cm
Wing 32-33 cm
Weight 2.5-3 kg

Northern giant petrel found in South Georgia. Photography by Ruslan Eliseev.

Southern Giant-Petrel

Giant-petrels are the largest of the petrel family, which make up the order of tubenose or procellariiform seabirds, along with albatrosses, shearwaters, storm petrels, and diving petrels. The crucial feature used to distinguish the northern giant petrel from the closely related southern giant petrel is the color of the bill tip: reddish-brown in the northern, and greenish in the southern. This characteristic is not always easy to spot at sea. Some southerns are all white, except for the odd dark feathers. This color phase does not occur in northerns, helping with identification. White phase southerns are more common at southerly breeding sites and are absent at the northerly ones.
Size 85-100 cm
Wing 46-58 cm
Wingspan 150-210 cm
Weight 3.8-5 k
Size 77 cm
Wing 32-33 cm
Weight 2.5-3 kg

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