What’s so special about South Georgia’s wildlife?

  • South Georgia is the world’s most important penguin & seabird breeding area
  • In terms of sheer numbers its unparalleled with the densest agglomeration of wildlife
  • 30 million breeding birds, including 7 million penguins & 250,000 albatrosses
  • 2 million fur seals and 50% of the world's population of southern elephant seals
  • Largely devoid of any fear of man provides rare opportunities for close wildlife interaction
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Swoop says

If you’re into wildlife or photography you would be mad not to consider going to South Georgia.

Penguins

King penguin with chick, South Georgia

King penguin with chick

In comparison to the islands’ non-existent human population, the numbers of penguins which inhabit the islands is overwhelming. There are considered to be 7 million individual birds on South Georgia, largely made up of the three dominant species:

Macaroni: 3 million pairs

King: Half a million pairs

Gentoo: 105,000 pairs

Chinstraps (6,000 pairs), adelie and rockhopper are also found, but in far fewer numbers.

St Andrews Bay & Salisbury Plain are the most famous penguin colonies on South Georgia, both with +200,000 king penguins. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder and set against the dramatic backdrop, the visual and olfactory assault is really quite something.

The penguins of Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

Seals

South Georgia Wildlife

Hard to miss being a dominant force on many beaches, the islands’ seal population is truly staggering.

Fur seals: There are well over 2 million southern fur seals, with 95% of the world's population converging on South Georgia each summer. The fur seal population was all but wiped out by sealers but they’ve sprung back with a vengeance. Found in such thick densities in December at the height of the breeding season, going ashore can be a real challenge and at times it simply isn’t practical to try to do so. Caution when walking amongst fur seals is strongly advised as they can be aggressive.

Elephant seals: On top of the fur seals, half of the world's population of southern elephant seals (more than 400,000 individual animals) also come to South Georgia to breed. Their curious name comes from their vast size and the large proboscis belonging to the massive adult males. Males elephant seals can be over 20 feet/ 6m long and weigh up to 8,800 pounds (4,000kg) making the beachmaster males defending their harem during November’s mating season a formidable sight.

Birds

South Georgia Wildlife

A haven for birdlife, South Georgia is the world’s most important seabird breeding site with an estimated population of well over 10 million birds.

There are 78 known bird species on South Georgia, including half the world’s population of Antarctic prions and 250,000 albatrosses of different species. One fifth of the world’s wandering albatrosses - the bird with the largest wingspan of all at over 3 metres - also calls this small island ‘Home’.

For bird enthusiasts, Prion Island is a ‘must see’ and well worth timing your visit when it's open to visitors. The biggest drawcard are the nesting wandering albatross sites which are accessible via a series of boardwalks. Access to the island is strictly controlled; it's closed to all visitors between 20th November - 7th January (inclusive).

Whales

South Georgia Wildlife

One of the great benefits of exploring South Georgia by ship is the chance to see cetaceans, the oceans gracile giants.

Humpbacks start to arrive from their tropical breeding grounds in November and are frequently sighted, particularly between the island and Antarctica. Easily identified by their long white pectoral fins.

Fin whales are also in residence, the second-largest of the great whales, particularly off the island’s southern coast. There’s also the possibility of sighting both southern right and blue whales.

Blue whales are easy to spot by their sheer bulk and their small curved dorsal fin located well back on the body. The dorsal fin and pigmentation pattern on the side of blue whales provide a fingerprint for identification.

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What our customers think of South Georgia Wildlife

Customer Image

What can one say other than wow. I expected to see penguins, seals, whales and birds but the amount and variety was something. To be in the midst of hundreds of thousands of penguins in a colony is mind-boggling. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Monica Scott - United States Of America

We would particularly recommend adding in the Falklands and South Georgia. The Falklands was such a lovely surprise and on top of Stanley and the history there the wildlife was amazing and as good as anything else we saw the whole trip. South Georgia lived up to its reputation for the greatest wildlife, plus its dramatic landscape and history. If you can then it is definitely the best itinerary to follow. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Angus Townsend - UK

Spending 20 days with the abundance of wildlife we experienced convinced me that penguins should be at the top of the food chain - not humans. They really have the life - and penguins just make you smile. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Gerry Garber - USA

We’ve been to Alaska several times, as well as Africa and some of the great deserts, but this is a different kind of awe inspiring experience…really impossible to grasp…even with prior research. Favorite encounters were watching the penguins from a respectful distance…..amazing. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Joe Brubaker - USA

The wildlife was amazing! There is such an abundance and variety of everything on shore and off. Even our at sea days were full of sea birds around the ship and whales close by. We saw thousands of penguins and seals everywhere we went. With the kayaking and zodiac cruises we got perspective of animals from the water as well! Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Jennifer Crews - Canada

Being completely engulfed by amazing wildlife in such a close proximity. It was a sensory overload in every sense of the word. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Helena Polackova - UK

We discovered why South Georgia is called The Serengeti of the Antarctic! We were surrounded by hundreds of thousands penguins, fur seals, elephant seals to such an extent that it was sometimes too dangerous to make a zodiac landing as the wildlife on shore was too dense. The landscape and the true wilderness of South Georgia is breathtaking. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Helena Polackova - UK

We experienced great albatross colonies and enjoyed seeing at least seven different penguin breeds throughout the journey. Birding and whale watching opportunities on and off the ship were superb. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Helena Polackova - UK

We saw seven different penguin species up close and personal. Five different seal species including amazing encounters with the apex predator "leopard seal". Watching a leopard seal hunt and catch a penguin was nature at its rawest and finest. We saw the complete circle of life, from fur seal pups to the demise of a poor gentoo penguin. There were times when the water was boiling with fur seal pups frolicking in the waves. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Scott Hunter - USA

Having time to stand and watch animal behaviour was special too. We were very fortunate to see all the penguin species (except emperors of course). Seals we saw: leopard, Weddell, crabeater, elephant & bays full of fur seal pups. Whales were often spotted: humpbacks, fin, sei and one minke, I think. Too many bird species to list but getting close to an albatross chick trying to stretch its wings was special and I saw a caracara with a dead penguin in its beak. Yes it lived up to, and exceeded, expectations. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Sue Gatenby - UK

Most memorable moment: the penguin colonies on South Georgia. Each time seeing the massive colonies on South Georgia I was blown away. It was beyond words. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Ron Hart - USA

Except for seeing the emperor...we saw all the penguins. And the seals...so many. My favorite encounter was having a very curious penguin come up and bite my camera lens. Wow! Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Gordon Pickering - USA

South Georgia was the highlight with so much wildlife and the history. The museum in Grytviken and the church were also very interesting. All the penguins, thousands of them at a time, was very overwhelming at times. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Gordon Pickering - USA

The diversity and the quantity of wildlife was amazing. We got great pictures. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2020

Deepak Nanda - United States Of America

The wildlife in South Georgia was amazing! I would recommend everybody who makes the journey to Antartica to make sure that they include South Georgia in their itinerary. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Jodie Pigman - United States Of America

Kayaking was a highlight, many people were turned away due to high popularity, so glad your team recommended and got us signed up for this. To be able to kayak through the brash ice and along the shorelines for birds and seals was great. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Steve Hatten - United States Of America

Cannot describe the experience of walking near a wave of 150,000 penguins, seals, and petrels. The nesting Albatross was a sight to see. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2018

Scott & Nereida Paris - United States Of America

After initially being overwhelmed when greeted by 150,000 pairs of kings plus their furry offspring, I discovered so much more to penguins - I love how they use their beaks not just to feed but also to push themselves up or to climb hills. Their cuteness, curiosity and cheekiness are mesmerising, and their unflappable nature - I could watch them for hours. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2018

Jo Cheung - United Kingdom

Review:

Guide to Wildlife on South Georgia

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Loli says

The kings at St Andrews Bay & Salisbury Plain are incredible and I’m fascinated by the history of Grytviken and Stromness, but Gold Harbour at sunrise is the favourite for me.

Loli Figueroa Polar Specialist

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