Right Whale Bay: Key information

  • Home to a colony of 25,000 pairs of king penguins
  • A beach dense with fur seals at the height of the summer breeding season
  • Nesting site for light-mantled albatross
  • Latitude 54°00'S, Longitude 37°41'W

About Right Whale Bay

A zodiac boat full of tourists in red jackets cruises in Right Whale Bay in South Georgia, with snowy mountains in the background

Zodiac cruising in Right Whale Bay

Right Whale Bay is on South Georgia's northeast coast, making it a popular call for many expedition cruise ships first arriving at the island. There is plenty of wildlife here, with the main attraction being a sizeable king penguin colony. The beach sees plenty of activity, from porpoising penguins in the surf to vast numbers of fur seals.

Weathered whale vertebra on the beach speak to South Georgia's history of exploitation, along with a few old storm battered timbers. These are likely the remains of the sealing ship Regulator, which was wrecked here in 1799, when the bay was known as Sparrow Cove (the ship's figurehead survived here until 1972 but is no longer present). Its crew built temporary shelters on the beach to live in until  they were picked up by a passing ship later in the season along with their cargo of some 14,000 fur seal skins. When a second ship sent by the Regulator’s owners belatedly arrived to rescue the men the following year, its captain found the beach abandoned. Not being one to pass on an opportunity, he salvaged the wreck and converted it into a cutter that he then used to expand on his sealing operations. Mount Regulator overlooking the bay is named for the ship.

Wildlife at Right Whale Bay

A long shot of a thousands of birds in a king penguin colony on the hills above Right Whale Bay on South Georgia island

The hillside king penguin colony at Right Whale Bay

Right Whale Bay's main attraction is its king penguin colony, made up of around 25,000 breeding pairs. Rather than being gathered on a plain as in many spots on South Georgia, the colony spreads up the side of a hill, giving the impression of a massive amphitheatre packed with noisy avian spectators.

It's not uncommon to see gentoo penguins on the beach even though they do not breed here. Chinstrap penguins may also sometimes be seen. Historically Right Whale Bay lay beyond their northernmost limit on South Georgia, but in January 2023 researchers at the British Antarctic Survey research base at nearby Bird Island recorded the first known chinstrap chicks, suggesting possible changes in behaviour and distribution.

Binder Beach is an enormously popular fur seal breeding location. At the height of summer, the beach is so packed that landings are impossible. Elephant seals breed here in smaller numbers, and leopard seals are sometimes seen patrolling the shoreline.

Other breeding bird species include giant petrels, brown skuas and snowy sheathbills. The grassy cliffs host the nests of a smaller number of light-mantled albatross as well as some of the smaller burrowing petrels – best viewed during a zodiac cruise.

Visitor guidelines for Right Whale Bay

Landings at Right Whale Bay are made at Binder Beach at the northern end of the bay. There is no site-specific management plan for Right Whale Bay but all visits must be made in accordance with South Georgia wildlife watching protocols. The whale bones on the beach must not be disturbed in any way.

From Binder Beach it is a 200m walk up a low rise to view the king penguin colony. It is forbidden to approach within 10m of the colony.

In summer, the density of fur seals on the beach may make landings unsafe so your expedition leader may choose to run zodiac cruises here instead. 

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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