South Georgia Island: a world of 1400 kilometers isolated

“At least 200 meters away from the whaling station – there is asbestos everywhere, the roof may be blown away by the wind,” as we carefully walked out of the zodiac, into the hot waves of Stromness Bay, South Georgia. In the middle of the day, the expedition captain Nate Smol told that the roaring seals and sleeping walruses would have a series of snoring, roaring and low voices.

Early in the journey, historian cyber Coulthard told me how Ernest Shackleton was trapped inside his boat and later fled one of the northern South Shetland Islands in the Antarctic Peninsula. The Elephant Island trudges 1,300 kilometers and arrived in Stromnes in 1916. For polar explorers, the whaling station represents civilization, but today nature is slowly regaining control. The seals hid by the whale fat pot, the emperor penguin swayed through the run-down warehouse, and the skua bathed in the meandering streams that used to flow the blood of thousands of whales.

South Georgia is one of the most remote places on the planet, rugged, with glaciers, mountains and fjords all over the place, and is not suitable for human habitation. This sub-Antarctic British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic is approximately 1,400 km from the nearest inhabited Falkland Islands and can only be accessed by sea. Most of the nearly 18,000 tourists a year travel to the area on an Antarctic cruise. The island covers an area of ​​3,755 square kilometers, less than one-fifth of the area of ​​Wales, and about half of it is permanently covered by ice.

Although South Georgia is isolated from the world and has a harsh environment, it was an important part of the global economy. This uninhabited island was first discovered in 1675 and was declared to be owned by the British in 1775 by James Cook. His description of the large number of seals has attracted the interest of British and American seal hunters. More than a century later, seals on South Georgia Island were hunted to the brink of extinction. By the beginning of the 20th century, hunting for seals was economically unworkable, but was quickly replaced by an equally bloody industry.

On the second day of my visit to Stromness, my ship sailed south to the King’s Bay in Edwards against a strong wind of 75 knots. This vast bay is littered with wrecked wrecks and small icebergs, with a rugged mountain range covered by drizzle, the site of Gulidviken, the first whaling station in South Georgia. Today, it is the main settlement on the island, with 15 to 30 people, most of whom are scientists and government officials.

After paying homage to Shackleton in the small cemetery of Glydviken, the curator of the local museum, Finlay Lovell, took me to visit the increasingly declining whaling station. We walk through an industrial site, low towers, warehouses, power plants, intricate pipes, huge buckwheat and fishbone pots, all covered with thick rust. Along the shoreline, vessels of varying degrees of dilapidation overlap in a strangely shaped angle, driven by the tide. Large chunks of whale bones lay on the muddy ground.

In 1902, the Norwegian polar explorer Carl Anton Larsen stopped in South Georgia and happened to find a beautiful natural harbour. After discovering several metal cans used to hunt seals (to refine whale oil), the area was named Gullyviken Norwegian “can bay”. “They are parked not far from today’s ship,” Laffer said. The only difference is that when they look out, they see hundreds of whales in this bay. Due to the sharp decline in the number of whales, the whaling industry in the northern hemisphere is declining, and Larsen has discovered a new business opportunity. In November 1904, he returned to Gulidviken, established a whaling station, and soon the business boomed. By 1912, there were six whaling stations on South Georgia Island, including Stromness.

We carefully avoided the two seals and were close to the ancient “Haiyan” whaling ship. The Haiyan has a steam engine, a reinforced hull and a powerful harpoon gun. It can capture up to 14 whales in a single trip to the sea. Back to Gullyviken, the whale will be dragged by the noose to the slide, the “skinning platform”. Raffle said: “There are blood and oil everywhere, very slippery, so these people are wearing non-slip boots. They have a peeling knife – a long, similar hockey stick with a sharp machete on it. To cut off the blubber.” The processing of each whale takes 20 minutes.

Initially, whalers were only interested in blubber, but later regulations forced them to use the entire whale body, Laver pointed to a bloody rotating blade and a 24-ton whale fat pot, explaining that although whale meat and bone meal can be used Animal feed and fertilizer are sold, but whale oil is the most valuable good thing. He said: “The finest whale oil is used to produce food such as margarine and ice cream. The second-class whale oil is used to produce soap and cosmetics, and the inferior whale oil is used in industrial production. Whale oil can also extract glycerin to make explosives; Can extract high quality lubricants for rifles, astronomical clocks and other military equipment. This has led to a surge in demand for these products during World War I and World War II.”

Gully Viken had 450 men during his heyday, working 7 days a week, working 12 hours a day, and the temperature could drop to minus 10 degrees Celsius.

Raffle left me in the former manager’s house, and this simple whitewashed building has become a museum. It shows some striking figures: between 1904 and 1965, South Georgia Island processed 175,250 whales, which collapsed due to over-hunting and the petrochemical industry. If you consider the Antarctic as a whole, plus the many “factory ships” that process whales on the ship, between 1904 and 1978, almost 1.5 million whales were hunted, hunting for whales as the industry collapsed. The kill is finally over.

The number of whales has not recovered. According to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the number of blue whales in the southern hemisphere has dropped from 200,000 to more than a thousand heads; the number of fin whales has also experienced a similar decline. It is estimated that there are 60,000 humpback whales in the southern hemisphere, but this is far lower than the era before whaling. In September 2018, the country supporting whaling vetoed IWC’s plan to establish a whaling reserve in the South Atlantic. Japan later announced that it would resume commercial whaling, the first time after 30 years of ban on hunting whales, causing global anger.

It is undeniable that the situation of whales is very bleak, but in other respects, South Georgia Island has become a protection model that is unlikely to replicate. As one of the world’s largest marine protected areas, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Marine Reserve were built here in 2012 to protect more than one million square kilometers of surrounding waters while the number of seals rebounded, the island There are now 98% of Antarctic seals in the world and about 50% of walruses.

There are also 30 million seabirds in the breeding season in South Georgia. During my visit, I spent a morning in St. Andrews Bay, where there are 400,000 emperor penguins, one of the four penguins found on the island. I spent an afternoon on Prion Island. Prion Island is an important breeding ground for albatrosses. Last year, after a groundbreaking eradication program, South Georgia Island was declared a rat-free island, and the authorities hope that the program will allow the reproduction of unique species such as South Georgia Tungsten and South Georgia Pintail.

Despite the large number of wild animals on the island, the whaling remains on the island remained the most impressive thing in my mind when I left Gulidviken. Coulthard said: “When you walk around these whaling stations, you see rusted cauldrons, clam pots and bone saws. This is a bittersweet irony because This is a terrible and cruel industry, but nature has carried out “sweet” revenge and regained control of it. It reminds us that nature does not need human beings, but we humans need nature.”