Antarctica Dream Adventure 6 – Grytviken, Old Whaling Station

South Georgia

The next visit on the Antarctica Dream Adventure was South Georgia, an island in the South Atlantic Ocean that is part of the British Overseas Territory of “South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands”. The first landing was by Captain James Cook from his ship HMS Resolution on 17th January 1775. The island is part of Antarctica.

With many bays and fjords there are numerous safe harbours which eventually attracted the sealing trade followed by the whaling trade. During the height of whaling in the area, there were seven seasonal whaling stations on South Georgia, but Grytviken was the most important.

Antarctica Dream Adventure 6 - Grytviken, Old Whaling Station safe harbour entrance
Entrance fjord to Grytviken

Grytviken Whaling Station on South Georgia

Grytviken was where the first permanent whaling station was established on South Georgia. Frank Wild of the 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition said that it was “the finest natural harbour in South Georgia”. By understanding the weather and ocean conditions as well as the remoteness of South Georgia it can provide a strong sense that you are walking through history.

Antarctica Dream Adventure 6 - Grytviken, Old Whaling Station deserted  and rusting away
Preserved decay of the Old Whaling Station at Grytviken

However, the Station was abandoned in 1965 as there were too few whales to make the industry viable.

Wildlife on South Georgia


Sorry there are no images of reindeer in South Georgia, but not because Father Christmas requisitioned them. The Whalers, largely from Norway, liked as much fresh meat as they could find. There is little that is native, so they brought down reindeer because it is easy for them to survive in the climate. They had freedom to roam.

However, when the whalers packed up in 1965 they did not take their reindeer with them. So the population continued to grow as there are no predators for reindeer in South Georgia.

Their numbers were now creating environmental damage, so it was decided to eradicate them. The belief was that there could be as many as 2,500. The program was conducted between 2013 and 2015 resulting in over 4,400 reindeer processed.

Fur Seals

King Penguins

Antarctica Dream Adventure 6 - Grytviken, Old Whaling Station Antarctic Shag
Antarctic Shag

Ernest Shackleton and South Georgia

Ernest Shackleton led the 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton’s ship Endurance became trapped in ice, crushed and sank. (It is noted that the well preserved wreck of the Endurance was found in March 2022, a hundred years since Shackleton died.) The 12 member expedition team salvaged the lifeboats and used them to get to inhospitable and uninhabited Elephant Island.

It was obvious that a rescue would not happen so Shackleton and some of the group made the 800 mile journey to South Georgia in an open boat “James Caird”, one of the boats rescued from the Endurance.

Antarctica Dream Adventure 6 - Grytviken, Old Whaling Station replica of Ernest Shackleton's James Caird open boat
Replica of the James Caird boat

Shackleton left his second in command, Frank Wild, in charge who made an excellent job of keeping the 21 marooned explorers alive and motivated. On reaching South Georgia Shackleton eventually, after three failed attempts, organized a rescue of the rest of the group from Elephant Island. Everyone survived.

At the time the expedition was perceived as a failure, but in hindsight it is now heralded as a successful and well led rescue.

In 1922 Shackleton died on board the Quest and is buried at the Grytviken whalers’ cemetery.

Present Day in South Georgia

Grytviken has no permanent residents. As Grytviken has become a popular stop for Antarctic cruises it has been designated an Area of Special Tourist Interest. During the summer tourist season the Museum of South Georgia and the Post Office are staffed.

The church at Grytviken is the only building that operates as originally defined. On occasion a service will be held in the church.

Antarctica Dream Adventure 6 - Grytviken, Old Whaling Station Old Church
The Church at Grytviken

King Edward Point

This is a permanent British Antarctic Research station. It is the Capital for the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and as such it is the smallest capital in the World when measured by population. Currently twelve British Antarctic Station personnel overwinter at the station, rising to around 22 in summer. Two Government Officers plus partners are stationed on King Edward Point, overlapping by about three months during the busy winter fishing season. This is important since South Georgia’s main income is from selling fishing licenses for these incredibly rich waters.

If you look at the image above “Decaying boat used to ferry whale parts from whaling ship” the buildings of King Edward Point are visible to the rear of the boat.

If you have missed the previous entries please click on the appropriate link below

Antarctica Dream Adventure 01 – Ushuaia Southernmost City in the World

Antarctica Dream Adventure 02 – A Day at Sea and About Bio-Security.

Antarctica Dream Adventure 03 – Penguins At Last, West Point Island

Antarctica Dream Adventure 04 – Off-road to Volunteer Point and Penguins

Antarctica Dream Adventure 05 – Birds and Bergs en route to South Georgia Island

Gear: Nikon Z 8, Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S, Nikkor Z TC-1.4x S, NIK 6 Silver Efex

This entry was posted in Antarctica Adventure, Birds, History, Mammals, Marine Mammals, Penguins, South Georgia Island, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Antarctica Dream Adventure 6 – Grytviken, Old Whaling Station

  1. Dennis S Weingarten says:

    Great informative read. Thanks. Really interesting photos added to my enjoyment of the narrative.

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