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Guest Blog: South Georgia Whaling Part 2 – Island Visitors

Heavy weather in Leith Harbour.
Heavy weather in Leith Harbour.

The island of South Georgia has had many visitors over the centuries, the first British visit was in the 18th Century.

In 1775, whales were reported to be highly abundant in South Georgia waters when Captain James Cook first visited the island. On board HMS Resolution, Captain Cook landed on South Georgia and claimed possession of the island for Great Britain, naming it Isle of Georgia, in honour of His Majesty, King George III. The publication of his journals in 1772, A Voyage towards the South Pole, described the abundance of fur seals or ‘sea bears’. His observations triggered the interest of sealers from Britain and the USA at a time when seal numbers were dropping in the Northern Hemisphere. During the subsequent century, it was the site of significant sealing activity. It was not until the 20th century however that South Georgia became the epicentre of modern whaling in the Southern Hemisphere.

Captain Larsen, a Norwegian whaler and sealer, first visited South Georgia on the Swedish South Polar Expedition in 1902. Once again, the abundance of whales in the southern waters was noted. Knowing that he was onto a goldmine, Larsen applied for a British whaling lease. Using Argentinian capital, he founded the whaling company Compañia Argentina de Pesca, establishing the first whaling station at Grytviken.

South Georgia Island Map
South Georgia Island Map

Grytviken was the longest running shore station in the Southern Hemisphere, operating between 1904 to 1965. At its peak South Georgia was home to 6 working industrialised shore stations. Over 175,000 whales were killed and processed for their oil at the shore stations of South Georgia. The development and final collapse of the whaling industry at South Georgia finally ceased on the island in 1965.

South Georgia Museum in summer (Credit SGM)
South Georgia Museum in summer (Credit SGM)

The museum opened to visitors in 1992 and is very much tied to the austral summer, from early October to late March and co-insides with the tourist season. There were just 6 small cruise ships in the 1992/93 summer season, but during the 2022/23 season that number has risen to over 109 ships with over 13,500 tourists visiting Grytviken and the museum.

To find out more about the South Georgia Museum please visit the website.

https://sgmuseum.gs/

Instagram – @southgeorgiamuseum

 

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