South Georgia – Been There

Love penguins? Here's penguin kingdom!

A young fur seal is framed by two king penguins. The dense underfur which gives them their name also made them the target of commercial hunting. However, there are now up to four million breeding on South Georgia, the densest grouping of marine mammals on earth, thought to be linked to a surplus of krill following the massive decline of whales.

Photo by Jochem Wijnands / Transterra Media

South Georgia – Been There

Love penguins? Here's penguin kingdom!

Fortuna Bay is a penguin-opolis populated by thousands of tall, sleek, orange-flashed king penguins. They shuffle, clap, slap each other, trumpet (their shrill, slightly comic calling), breed, feed their chicks, sit on eggs and generally cause mayhem.

Chris Moss
Chris Moss Travel Writer

Kings are hypersocial and their manner, by turns brazen and bashful, reminds me of teenagers at a youth club. They club together to push one of their number forward so he’s closest to me, as if saying, “Go on, check him out, don’t be such a chicken”. One tall, handsome fellow gets close enough to have a bite at my boot.

Our onboard penguin expert, Kirsten, does an impression of what she calls the king penguin’s “advertisement walk”, when the male does a kind of hip-swinging gallivant and then glances behind him to check his date is keeping up. If she gets lazy, though, and wanders off elsewhere, he pretends he’s actually not interested anyway and goes to lose himself in a gang – or find another girl. Their adolescent attitude seems to extend to their breeding, too. They don’t bother to build a nest but just incubate the egg on their feet, taking it in turns for a process that lasts 15 weeks.

And of course there is the choking smell of half-digested fish, dead penguin and ammonia from the bird’s guano to add to the constant noise. All this is against a backdrop of magnificent glaciers flowing down a mountain range like icy tongues. Some gentoos then waddle out of the sea, and two elephant seals began to fight on the beach. I sit down on a slope and try to let it all sink in.

There are 400,000 king penguin pairs on South Georgia but they do not make nests, incubating their...

There are 400,000 king penguin pairs on South Georgia but they do not make nests, incubating their eggs on the adults’ feet. Colonies range in size from less than 30 birds to hundreds of thousands of birds but fighting is rare. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Nikon D3s

Aperture
ƒ/14
Exposure
1/30
ISO
125
Focal
80 mm

There are 400,000 king penguin pairs on South Georgia but they do not make nests, incubating their eggs on the adults’ feet. Colonies range in size from less than 30 birds to hundreds of thousands of birds but fighting is rare.