Elsehul: Key information

  • One of South Georgia's best bird-watching locations
  • Three species of albatrosses nesting together, along with colonies of macaroni and gentoo penguins
  • Sheltered natural harbour for zodiac cruises
  • Latitude 54°01'S, Longitude 37°59'W

Explore Elsehul with Swoop

About Elsehul

Tourists watch light-mantled albatrosses flying overhead in the snow at Elsehul, South Georgia

Light-mantled albatrosses at Elsehul

Visitors first called in at Elsehul in the 1780s, when it gave shelters to early sealing expeditions who named it Paddock Cove. South Georgia is at its narrowest here, and sealers could easily haul their boats over the narrow isthmus just 350m wide to the south coast to avoid the stormy passage around the northern tip of the island. Over 1.2 million fur seals were killed in South Georgia in this period – when whalers rediscovered the cove at the start of the 20th century barely a single seal remained to be found. The name Elsehul (Else Cove) dates from this period, likely given in honour of the wife of a Norwegian captain. Three sealing trypots can still be seen on the beach. 

By the 1970s, fur seal numbers had rebounded sufficiently for Elsehul to be the location for an important British Antarctic Survey study on their recovery. Today, so many crowd the narrow beach here that landings can be difficult in November and December: many visitors experience Elsehul by zodiac cruise to enjoy the location's abundant birdlife. 

Wildlife at Elsehul

A macaroni penguin rookery on the cliffs at Elsehul, South Georgia

Macaroni penguin rookery at Elsehul

Elsehul is one of the few accessible places on South Georgia where black-browed albatrosses and grey-headed albatrosses nest together, along with a smaller number of light-mantled albatrosses. The eastern cliffs of the harbour around Pull Point have the largest numbers of nesting birds, along with imperial cormorants and giant petrels.

A significant number of macaroni penguins also form a rookery on the lower cliffs, ascending the steep slopes with their crampon-like claws on their feet. White-chinned petrels, cape petrels, Wilson's storm -petrels, brown skuas and wandering albatrosses can also be seen on the wing.

In season, fur seals and elephant seals line the narrow beach at the south of the harbour. Above them, gentoo penguins nest in the tussock, along with increasing numbers of South Georgia pipits. Small number of king penguins can also sometimes be seen on the beach here, although there is no colony. 

Visitor guidelines for Elsehul

The steep cliffs and sheltered harbour make Elsehul a preferred location for zodiac cruises, not least for ships making it an early call after arrival in South Georgia from the Falkland Islands. 

The small size of the beach can make landings difficult, especially during fur seal breeding season. The density of animals can make the tussac very muddy, and visitors late in the season should be aware of seal pups hidden in the grass: all reasons why zodiac cruises are the more common option here.  

Elsehul is not subject to a site visitor management plan by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands. Care must be taken not to disturb the old sealing trypots in any way.

NOTE: Ship itineraries and visits to specific landing sites in South Georgia can never be guaranteed. Plans can change as fast as the polar weather: decisions on which locations to visit are always made on the day by the ship's captain and expedition leader.

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