South Georgia Island sits at the fringes of Antarctica with wild ice-covered peaks, soaring albatrosses, constant wind, massive glaciers calving, and wave-pounded beaches filled with wildlife so dense that it is hard to walk. In summer thousands of fur seals, elephant seals and penguins congregate here to fight, mate and rear their young. But recently a rather extraordinary sight could be seen at South Georgia, a man with an alien-like appendage strapped onto his back. It was explained as the arrival of Google Streetview to South Georgia.
Eric Wehrmeister was employed by Google to wear the bright green 20-kilo backpack and walk it around various sites on South Georgia. The ‘head’ of the backpack is a sphere covered in the camera’s fifteen lenses; the rest of the pack houses the powerpack and memories. Eric described carrying the pack as, “comfortable, but you know it’s there”.
Eric was travelling on the expedition cruise ship National Geographic Explorer in March, at the end of the last tourist season. He has been a videographer with the company Lindblad, which operates the ship, for the past three years. Lindblad went into partnership with Google for the project to put some of the more remote places in the world on Google Streetview. Offered the opportunity to assist in the project, Eric, who has had a lifelong love of maps, enthusiastically agreed. He was landed at various places the ship was visiting and was put ashore either before or after the guests to avoid the pictures being populated by red-coated humans. Amongst other sites, the special camera was deployed at Gold Harbour, Right Whale Bay, Prion Island, and at Stromness where he walked up the valley to the base of Shackleton’s waterfall. At Hercules Bay he and the camera were driven around the bay in a Zodiac. KEP was not covered, but in Grytviken Eric walked the camera around the site for two and a half hours, walking fast but being careful to cover all the main tracks around the station, in and around the cemetery and up to the Church. He also took the camera into both the Church and the South Georgia Museum.
Whilst he was at Grytviken the weather was not ideal, with horizontal blowing snow at times, which may cause some of the images to be blurry. He often had to stop to wipe all 15 lenses before carrying on. He explained that if the quality is impaired or there is insufficient light, for instance inside the buildings, then not all the images he has recorded may have been uploaded to the Google Maps. No sound is recorded on the camera.
Eric underwent a week of training at Google prior to joining the ship. With its head-like multi-lens bobbing around above the broad ‘shoulders’ of the pack, you can easily imagine why the camera might lend itself to being given a name, but he was told he must resist the impulse as a previously named camera had been ill-fated, so his camera was just known as “19481”. There were no such rules about Eric though, and as the man and camera made such an arresting sight, one of the staff on the ship called him the “Google Monster” and the name stuck, he was affectionately called that for the rest of the trip.
Eric was especially keen to be deploying the camera in South Georgia, a place he described as “the most mind-blowing place I have ever been.” For him it is a way of sharing the experience of visiting the place with many millions of people who will never be able visit the island in person, but who have access to broadband internet. Through his work and Google Streetview people all over the world can now ‘walk’ or ‘fly’ through the old whaling station at Grytviken, or up the boardwalk on Prion Island, where the wandering albatross are nesting within two meters of the viewer. They can even go inside the Church and the South Georgia Museum.
Visit South Georgia on Google Streetview by clicking on the links below; you can navigate by clicking the transparent white (X) which indicates the camera positions.
See a video of Eric, the ‘google monster’ in action with his camera here.
Source: South Georgia News letter