3 Apr 2018

3 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Six: South Georgia - Legacy Of Whaling

As mentioned in the previous Post, Grytviken & South Georgia played an important part in the story of the life of Sir Ernest Shackleton. But it wouldn't be part of the story, if it wasn't for the history of Whale & Seal hunting on the island. Fortunately, that is long in the past & all Cetaceans & Seals are now fully protected by law within South Georgian waters. The Seal numbers have recovered, but it is still a much longer recovery for the Whales. However, the legacy is whaling is still present in South Georgia. We were still sailing into Grytviken by the time we had finished lunch so there was some time to admire the scenery.
The approach to Grytviken was full of stunning scenery: Even if the weather was looking like it was going to rain soon
Grytviken Bay is tucked inside a larger bay & there are several glaciers in the main bay
Another glacier
A third glacier: By this point, the clouds were getting lower, the light was getting poorer & the rain starting
South Georgia Pintail: They are easy to identify as they are the only Duck on South Georgia (even as dots)
The photos for the previous Post about Sir Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean & Frank Wild were all shown in black & white. This Post is using sepia to again represent a time in the past. Overall, I think the photos look better in black & white. However, it was fun to try something different.
Abandoned ship: This looks like a shipwreck. However, it is more likely to have been abandoned by the whalers when they pulled out of South Georgia as it would have been more expensive to sail it away from South Georgia, than just dump it. There was clearly no morale responsibility in their actions. After made good money out of decimating the great Whales & Seals in the Southern Oceans, then just cut & ran, leaving their ships & whaling stations to pollute South Georgia
Another abandoned ship: Following the rant after the last photo, now the ships & bases have been abandoned, then I think it is right that they are cleaned up & made safe, so visitors can see the historical legacy. This will help get the message across about the damage the whaling industry has done to Antarctica & the Southern Oceans. Sadly, this won't change the attitude of the Japanese government which is still whaling in the South Oceans, despite the official whaling moratorium that was signed in 1982. The Japanese claim they are killing the Whales for science, but it is purely for commercial Whale meat in the shops. Whale meat only really entered the Japanese diet as a result of food shortages after the Second World War, so the Japanese don't even have a real historical tradition of Whale hunting
Grytviken is next to the official British base on South Georgia at King Edward Point. The first thing we needed to do was have the UK authorities come on board & officially clear the ship to land people in Grytviken & for the passport stamps. Fortunately, we had been relieved of our passports when we joined the ship & this allowed the ship's team to present all the passports in one go to be stamped for our entry & exit visas. It would have been a far more painfully slow process, if we had had to queue up one by one to present our passports. Once the Plancius & our entry had been approved, we were free to jump into the zodiacs to be dropped close to the small cemetery.
Entering the final bay containing Grytviken & the King Edward Point base
King Edward Point: The small British base & administration centre in South Georgia. It is good that the modern base is separate from the old whaling station
In the bay beyond King Edward Point is the ex-whaling base of Grytviken
The Petrel: An ex-whale-catcher & sealer
The Albatros (left) & the Dias: The Albatros was a whale-catcher that was converted to sealing, whereas, the Dias was a trawler that was used for sealing
Some of the old Whale & Seal oil tanks
After the visit to Shackleton's grave in the small Grytviken cemetery, we had a few hours to walk along to explore the whaling settlement, excellent museum & send some cards from the post office.
The rain hadn't eased as we walked to the walking settlement
The Louise: She was initially used as a timber transporter, before being bought by the whaling company & used to transport the equipment to establish the whaling station. She was later used to store coal for the whalers. She was considered to be the finest example of an American 'Down-easter' deep water sailing ship, before she was burnt to the waterline during an exercise in 1987 by the garrison based at King Edward Point
The Louise
The Petrel: This is one of several old whaling ships just rotting in the harbour
The Petrel: The Petrel was built in 1929 in Oslo & is the best preserved of the whale-catchers in South Georgia. She carried on as a whale-catcher till 1956. In 1957, she was converted to a sealing vessel. She has been partially restored
The Petrel: The Petrel like the other remains at Grytviken, were just dumped when the whaling companies pulled out of the base. It would be good if any of those companies still trade for them to be made to subsidise the conservation & clean up costs at Grytviken. Especially, as there is still asbestos & other harmful pollutants present. However, I guess that is wishful thinking & the companies if they are still trading, would deny liability for any clean up costs
The Petrel: The harpoon gun is a testament to the massacre of the Whales that took place at the various bases in South Georgia. There are several other bases, but only Grytviken is normally accessible to Expedition ships
There are also extensive storage tanks for storing the Whale & Seal oil, as well as, the equipment that was used to extract the oil from the Whale & Seal blubber.
The extensive Whale & Seal oil storage tanks
Some of the old Whale & Seal oil tanks
I guess these tanks were used to extract the oil
Some of the equipment to extract the Whale & Seal oil
Another view of some of the oil tanks
The Albatros: Another abandoned whaling ship which was built in Norway in 1921. Again she finished her career as a sealing vessel before being abandoned
The church stands out as contrast to the old whaling industrial site
Another contrast was this small modern yacht: I wouldn't have liked to have arrived in such a small boat
When Captain Cook visited South Georgia in 1775, it was estimated that there were 2-3 million Antarctic Fur Seals on South Georgia. Seal skins were big business in the Northern hemisphere in that period & 11 years later the first ship visited South Georgia after the Antarctic Fur Seal skins. Many more ships followed & each decimated the Antarctic Fur Seals with no regard to ensuring the populations were sustainable. One American ship collected 57,000 skins in 1800 alone. Over the following years, as the Antarctic Fur Seals became harder to find, Southern Elephant Seals were also killed in greater numbers. By 1920, Antarctic Fur Seals had been so heavily over hunted that there were through to have only been a few hundred left in South Georgia. Eventually, the breeding grounds were protected by British law in 1908 & hunting was banned completely in the 1960s. Fortunately, this action lead to a recovery to the Antarctic Fur Seal population to an estimated 4.25 - 6 million individuals around South Georgia. It is also believed that one of the factors that helped their rapid recovery was the decimation of the large Whales which also complete for Krill. The recovery of the large Whales has been much slower.
Grytviken during the 1911-12 whaling season with the factory in full operation: The stream rises from the blubber cookery. Huge numbers of wooden barrels filled with Whale oil are piled up throughout the factory site. Dead Whales are tied up in the bay awaiting processing & other processed carcasses have drifted ashore. In the bay is the sailing vessel Nor & the bargue Tijuca & transport ship Harpon are moored at the jetties. There is a small meteorological station at King Edward Point
The whaling industry in South Georgia was equally brutal. It began when Norwegian Carl Larsen arrived in 1904 at Grytviken & set up the first whaling station. Within a month they were killing & processing Whales for Whale oil. The profits were enormous as one Whale could be worth $100,000 in today's money as the oil was used to produce glycerine which was used for explosives, especially in the First World War. It was also used for a variety of other domestic users from lighting lamps to artists paint. The bones were also used to produce ladies corsets & the Whale meat was sold for food or animal food. Given the money that Larsen's company was making, there were rapidly requests for permission to create other whaling stations & licences for six other sites were approved by the Falklands Island authorities (who administered South Georgia in those days). These six sites still have abandoned whaling stations, but there is generally no access allowed to Expedition ships as the sites haven't been cleaned up to allow safe access. By the late 1920s, it was becoming more difficult to find Whales around South Georgia & factory ships were having to accompany the whaling ships further afield in the hunt for more Whales. As a result, the land bases changed to more of a support role for the ships. Between 1904 & 1966, 175,250 Whales had been processed by the seven South Georgia whaling stations & it is estimated that at least another million were killed by the factory ships. By the 1960s, whaling in the Southern Oceans was becoming commercially unviable as there were so few Whales left & the demand for Whale oil had disappeared as the petrochemical industry had been able to provide cheaper alternatives. At this point, the whalers simply abandoned the whaling stations in South Georgia without any attempt to remove the bases or ships. Thus, they are largely still as they were left, subject to the affects of around fifty years of South Georgian weather. The base at Grytviken has been cleaned up to some extent to allow visitors to see the whaling station with one of the original accommodation buildings having a make over to convert it into the museum.
Blue Whale sculpture: This stunning sculpture was created by artist Helen Denerley as a prototype for a planned larger sculpture which commemorates the 54,000 Whales flensed at Grytviken & the 175,000 Whales brought ashore across South Georgia. It is made from scrap metal salvaged from the whaling station & includes two flensing irons
A final legacy of the whaling: Whale bones just lying in a stream bed