South Georgia Newsletter, August 2008

From South Georgia Website

Jump to: navigation, search

- Disclaimer: This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.

- To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

- Archive of previous newsletters here.


Oiled Penguins Tragedy

Two badly oiled Gentoo Penguins. Photo Charles Swift.
Two badly oiled Gentoo Penguins. Photo Charles Swift.

Large numbers of oiled penguins have come ashore in the past fortnight. Both Gentoo and King Penguins have been affected. Some birds are so badly oiled that they are completely black. The signs are worrying and South Georgia Government is taking steps to assess the scale of the problem and identify possible causes.


The first oiled bird, a Gentoo Penguin, was found at King Edward Point in early July. It seemed to be an isolated case. The bird was captured, cleaned and later released (see ‘snippets’ below). Then, later in August, four oiled penguins came up on beaches at Bird Island, to the far north of South Georgia. A couple of days later, people visiting the Gentoo Penguin roost at Maiviken found a worrying scene; they counted 26 oiled penguins out of just over 400 in the area; the oiling affecting 6.5% of the birds present. Since then several oiled birds can be seen ashore at any one time in the King Edward Cove area. Oiling varies from spatters to total immersion.




Oiled King Penguin.
Oiled King Penguin.

The source of the oil is unknown, but, since none of the inshore birds such as gulls, shags, ducks or terns have been seen with any oil on, most likely it was somewhere well offshore.


With most of the Island inaccessible to the few residents it has not been possible yet to establish the full extent of the problem. The obvious fear is that the large King Penguin colonies at St Andrews Bay and Salisbury Plain are affected. Efforts will be made shortly to reach some other areas and to see if the oiled birds are limited just to the northern and central area of the Island or are more widespread. At King Edward Point and Bird Island some of the oiled birds have been captured and samples of oiled feathers taken. Analysis of the oil samples taken from different areas of the Island should at least be able to establish if the oiling is from a single source.


Unfortunately there are not the resources or manpower to enable more attempts to be made to clean affected penguins.



The Gentoo penguin rookery at Maiviken. The two penguins ringed are facing the camera. Photo Charles Swift.
The Gentoo penguin rookery at Maiviken. The two penguins ringed are facing the camera. Photo Charles Swift.



Longliner Hits Iceberg

(Article from Penguin News)


Repairs were made to the bow of “Viking Bay” after it hit an iceberg. Photo Patrick Lurcock.
Repairs were made to the bow of “Viking Bay” after it hit an iceberg. Photo Patrick Lurcock.

The crew of the Spanish-flagged longliner “Viking Bay” had a run in with a small iceberg on August 1st. Due to the quick actions of the Captain and officers on the bridge, the damage was minor.


In the early hours of August 1st the weather was very rough, resulting in a large sea swell. This, coupled with heavy snow, resulted in poor visibility and the ship’s two radars being unable to detect the small iceberg. Once spotted by one of the three officers on watch the Captain made a quick decision to take evasive action by going astern, which resulted in the vessel and iceberg impacting slowly. Damage was caused solely to the top of the bow which is constructed from aluminium; a piece that is covered to give a closed in work space required in such cold and extreme conditions. The stronger, lower part of the bow was undamaged.





Viking Bay took safe anchorage in Cumberland West Bay where the engineering staff were able to carry out repairs.


Director of ‘South Atlantic Squid’ and ‘Beauchene Fishing’ Cheryl Roberts commented: “Although this was a minor incident it does serve to remind us of the dangers and perils that come with working in the fishing grounds of the South Atlantic.”



Fishing And Shipping News

The fishing fleet weathered a severe storm on August 19th-20th. One Captain reported hurricane force winds reaching 93 knots (over 100 miles an hour), the highest wind conditions he had experienced in South Georgia waters in eleven years of fishing here. The Fishery Patrol Vessel “Pharos SG” was on passage to the Falkland Islands at the same time and reported sea conditions as Force 9-10 at times with a six-metre swell.


The Toothfish longline season is drawing to a close. All eleven licensed Toothfish vessels were fishing at the beginning of August, but most of them completed their TAC (Total Allowable Catch) and left the fishery by the end of the month. The vessels then sailed for Stanley, FI to have their catches verified by South Georgia Government Inspectors.


CCAMLR (the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) has extended the longline season until September 14th for vessels that comply with certain conditions, although only two longliners have taken advantage of this extension. Five Krill trawlers were operating at the beginning of the month. Two trawlers new to the fishery were inspected and licensed. Two trawlers were still operating by the end of the month. Catches remain good.


Four reefers spent time anchored in Cumberland East Bay during August with several Krill trawlers coming in to tranship their catches to them.


Fishery Protection Vessel “Pharos SG” in Cumberland Bay on a calm day.
Fishery Protection Vessel “Pharos SG” in Cumberland Bay on a calm day.


A longliner working in the South Georgia Fishing Zone. It is hauling a line and processing the Toothfish in the factory. Flash required for video.




Surprisingly Rich Sea Life

A sample net is deployed from the BAS ship “RRS James Clark Ross” during the BIOPEARL cruise. Photo British Antarctic Survey.
A sample net is deployed from the BAS ship “RRS James Clark Ross” during the BIOPEARL cruise. Photo British Antarctic Survey.


The hugely successful 2006 BIOPEARL cruise studied marine biodiversity in the Scotia Arc region. A press release on the publication of the cruise results on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) website singled out two underwater sites in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands for special mention. Scientists were surprised at the density and diversity of life found at Shag Rocks, South Georgia, and at Southern Thule, South Sandwich Islands.


Against all expectations the continental slope of Shag Rocks has been found to be possibly as rich as its shelf. A staggering 81 species were found on only 0.36m2 of boulder surface. Some of the species found had not been recorded at this region before.


At Southern Thule it was found that despite the isolation and recent eruptions of the volcanic island, it has already been re-colonised to high diversities, including animals without dispersive larvae. Click here to see the original story.



The Toughest Spider In The World

By Alastair Lavery


A British Antarctic Survey (BAS) field team on South Georgia has found spiders living in one of the most inhospitable places in the world. While carrying out their geological fieldwork geologist Mike Curtis and Field Assistant Rob Smith also collected spiders for Alastair Lavery who later identified the specimens in the UK.


Two of their samples establish new height records for spiders on South Georgia, at 598 metres on the Greene peninsula and even more remarkably, at 820 metres near the Szielasko Ice Cap on the Barff Peninsula. The same species, Notiomaso grytvikensis, was found at both sites. This small, dark spider, about 3mm long, has been found on South Georgian mountains before, but never above 450 metres. The spider is endemic to South Georgia.


The modest but tough N. grytvikensis spider. Photo Alastair Lavery.
The modest but tough N. grytvikensis spider. Photo Alastair Lavery.

At these heights the spiders hunt by spinning small webs amongst the rock and scree, feeding on insects that travel from the vegetated areas below or on the tiny animals living on plant remains blown up from the lower slopes. South Georgia has the most southerly records for spiders, along with the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego and Macquarie Island in the Pacific Ocean. They all lie between 54-56° south. No spiders have been found on the Antarctic continent or nearby islands.






The combination of latitude and altitude make these spider candidates for the toughest in the world. Their main rival is a species of jumping spider, Euophrys omnisuperstes, found at 6,700 metres on Everest in 1925. The scientific name of the Himalayan spider means “standing above all others”. Notiomaso grytvikensis is named after Grytviken, where ironically it is uncommon, so may well be more modest, but hardier.




French Mountaineers Present Spectacular Images

The poster advertising the Georgia Sat presentation.
The poster advertising the Georgia Sat presentation.

The French Mountaineers on the ‘Georgia Sat’ expedition last summer successfully climbed South Georgia’s highest mountain Mt Paget. They also made a first ascent of Sheridan Peak. Sheridan Peak is named after Guy Sheridan, leader of the land forces that liberated South Georgia in 1982. He lives in France and was invited to a presentation by the expedition. Below is his report on the event:


The invitation arrived by e-mail on July 15th, it read: “It is with great pleasure that we will be welcoming you and your wife to Chamonix to participate in the evening event on July 29th with the team of ‘Georgia Sat’. Can you confirm your participation? Your speech: about 10 minutes to explain to us why there is a Sheridan’s Peak in South Georgia.”







The presentation was organised by the Cultural Section of the Mairie of Chamonix Mont Blanc and was open to the public. It was to be given by members of the French ‘Georgia Sat’ Expedition that visited South Georgia during November and December 2007. Among the many activities accomplished by the expedition were: a new, extreme direct route up the north side of Mt Paget; the first ascent of Sheridan Peak; and an integral traverse of the Island on skis taking just 11 days. During their two-month stay on the Island the climbing team of three Alpine Guides were supported by the 15m aluminium yacht “Ada 2” skippered by experienced and renowned French yachtswoman, Isabelle Autissier.


My wife Molly and I were able to meet the team at a buffet supper before the show. The presentation was in three sections – Isabelle and Lionel Daudet explaining how the project was born, my 10 minutes in heavily Anglo-Saxon accented French and finally a series of films accompanied by music and commentary from members of the team. Predictably, the Majestic Hotel auditorium was full. The films were spectacular with a general shots from the supporting “Ada 2” interspersed with impressive mountaineering and skiing scenes, many taken on the glaciers on the southern side of Paget which are seldom, if ever, visited. At the end of the presentation the team were able to sign copies of their book on the expedition to members of the public. ‘Versant Océan’, written jointly by Isabelle Autissier and Lionel Daudet, is a book containing hundreds of spectacular colour photographs with clear maps. Whether or not you can read French, this marvellous book with many images and views of the Island’s glaciers and mountains never seen before is a ‘must’ for anyone associated or interested in South Georgia.

Guy Sheridan


Guy with the expedition group. L to R: Guy Sheridan, Lionel Daudet, Dr Emmanuel Cauchy, Tristam Guyon Le Bouffy, Philippe Batoux and Isabelle Autissier.
Guy with the expedition group. L to R: Guy Sheridan, Lionel Daudet, Dr Emmanuel Cauchy, Tristam Guyon Le Bouffy, Philippe Batoux and Isabelle Autissier.



VERSANT OCEAN L’ile du bout du monde. By Isabelle Autissier & Lionel Daudet. Softback 300 pages ISBN 978-2-246-73081-1 Published by Bernard Grasset, Paris, 2008 Price (excluding p&P) €22.80.














Bird Island News

By Gorfou, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island


Another quiet month for us on Bird Island… writing our annual report; sorting and measuring squid beaks, fish otoliths or krill carapaces; monitoring Leopard Seals; counting Wandering Albatross chicks; cooking, weekly scrub out plus all the other duties to keep the base running; skiing, snowboarding or just enjoying a day out during one of the sunny and calm days we had… It doesn’t look that quiet maybe, but compared to the coming month it was very quiet and tranquil.


As you know there are only four of us on Bird Island during the winter and you’ve probably heard that most of the Fur Seals and birds (penguins, albatrosses and petrels) leave the island and wander the Southern Ocean for a few months. Although it’s true for more than 90% of our furry and feathery inhabitants, we haven’t been abandoned by all of them.


Let’s start with the fifth winterer, “Rex” who is in his second winter. He’s the only Skua we’ve seen around since July. With his broken wing he can’t go further than the beach and the back of the base where he has settled his winter residence. When he’s going to the beach, he associates with various other species:


  • Pale-faced Sheathbills also known as “mutt”, they seem to be the result of genetic experimentations between a chicken and a pigeon!!!
  • Kelp Gulls, often seen in pairs eating limpets on the shore.
  • South Georgia Pintails, the only species of duck, which frequent the shore to feed on seaweeds at low tide.
  • South Georgia Pipits, only songbird and smallest species, that also frequent and feed on the seashore during the winter.
  • South Georgian Shags, often seen resting on the rocky shore between dives to catch coastal fish.
  • Antarctic Terns, the noisiest species of the island during the winter when they are fishing in the bay.
  • Cape Petrels which most of the time venture in the bay to steal tiny pieces of meat lost by Leopard Seals during a penguin or seal feast.


Top, left to right: ’Rex’  the Skua, Pale-faced Sheathbill, Kelp Gull, South Georgia Pintail. Bottom Left to right: South Georgia Pipit, South Georgian Shag, Antarctic Tern and Cape Petrel.
Top, left to right: ’Rex’ the Skua, Pale-faced Sheathbill, Kelp Gull, South Georgia Pintail. Bottom Left to right: South Georgia Pipit, South Georgian Shag, Antarctic Tern and Cape Petrel.


  • Gentoo Penguins, there are hundreds of them coming ashore every evening to spend the night at the beach club.
  • King Penguins are occasional visitors, isolated individuals on an empty beach or with hundreds of Gentoo Penguins; the few birds we saw in August were sadly stained with oil… like at KEP.
  • Antarctic Fur Seals, mainly sub-adults, are scattered along the coast in small groups sleeping for hours and hours when they’re not feigning a fight.
  • Southern Elephant Seals, juveniles, are also found resting in small number along the coast.
  • Leopard Seals, the terrors of the surrounding water, like spending the sunny days on a flat piece of iceberg.
  • Wandering Albatross chicks, found only on the meadows, haven’t moved from their nest since they were born in April. They are spending their time sleeping, renovating their nests, flapping their wings and growing feathers… It’s a long job.
  • Giant Petrels, found on the beach sleeping or on the meadows displaying and flirting… the northern species will start to lay their eggs next month.


Top, left to right: Gentoo Penguins at the beach club, oiled King Penguin, Antarctic Fur Seals (one is a white morph), Elephant Seal. Bottom Left to right: Leopard Seal, Wandering Albatross chicks and Northern Giant Petrel mating.
Top, left to right: Gentoo Penguins at the beach club, oiled King Penguin, Antarctic Fur Seals (one is a white morph), Elephant Seal. Bottom Left to right: Leopard Seal, Wandering Albatross chicks and Northern Giant Petrel mating.


So, even if we are a few thousand kilometres away from the nearest city, we’re not alone and even if we feel lonely we can still create some imaginary friends… made up beach debris!!!


The BI lads and their imaginary friends. Can you guess what the night’s theme was?
The BI lads and their imaginary friends. Can you guess what the night’s theme was?




South Georgia Snippets

Badly oiled penguins are not confined just to South Georgia, a widespread problem is being reported from all around the Falkland Islands and in Brazil hundreds of oiled penguins have been captured and hundreds more dead oiled penguins have washed up. Are these just isolated incidents or could something connect them?


The oiled penguins coming ashore at King Edward Point are occasionally appearing on the two webcams.


With so many badly oiled penguins being seen at South Georgia now, the efforts made to clean up the one Gentoo captured last month do not seem much, but the experience enriched our lives. The bird was kept for three weeks in the wet lab so it could be fed to improve its overall condition and to allow it time to preen and re-waterproof its feathers. Despite still having an injury to one wing the decision was taken to release it at the beginning of August as it stopped accepting food. The door to the wetlab was opened and the bird seemed very undecided whether to stay or go. It hopped out through the door, then hopped back in again, repeating the process several times, each time going a little further away before turning back. Eventually it got more adventurous and, hearing another Gentoo in the vicinity, followed the other bird’s calls down to the sea edge near the jetty. By then it was so excited to see another of its own kind it took a leap off the jetty edge to reach the other bird. The videoclip below shows the whole story…


The Gentoo Penguin that was cleaned, kept to recover and then released. Flash required for video.



Two of the King chicks weathered the storm. Photo Patrick Lurcock
Two of the King chicks weathered the storm. Photo Patrick Lurcock

The big storm overnight on August 19th registered at more than 60 knots in the sheltered Cove at King Edward Point. This sort of severe weather has in the past occurred at about the same time as the loss of the King Penguin chicks in the nascent colony at Penguin River. We were pleased then to find two of the original four chicks still surviving when they were visited shortly after. The four parent birds are regularly with the chicks and have been seen feeding them. Maybe these chicks can be the first to make it through the winter in this location.







The parent birds are often seen with the chicks at Penguin River.
The parent birds are often seen with the chicks at Penguin River.

















One of the leopard Seals that hauled out onto ice in King Edward Cove. Photo Tim Hudson.
One of the leopard Seals that hauled out onto ice in King Edward Cove. Photo Tim Hudson.

There have been few sightings of Leopard Seals last winter and so far this one, so it was nice to see three of them hauled out on ice that had been blown into King Edward Cove on August 7th. Another was seen swimming in the Cove on the 10th.











Working on the radio repeater on Duse Ridge. Photo Tim Hudson.
Working on the radio repeater on Duse Ridge. Photo Tim Hudson.

Several trips up to the radio repeater on the ridge between Mt. Duse and Spencer Peak have been necessary in the past couple of months. The solar panels have been dug out a couple of times to give the batteries a chance to be recharged, but in the end it was accepted that the dreaded task of carrying up 35kg replacement batteries was needed. It took several weeks to complete the task as lack of good travel weather, short days and exhaustion meant it had to be done in stages.







There are some early signs of spring. Some welcome, some not so welcome! Not welcome is the regular dipping into the edge of the ozone hole over the Antarctic, necessitating vigilance to protect our skins when out and about. We get twice-daily maps so we know when risks will be highest. Annoyingly the lowest ozone days also usually fall on the nicest days too, and occasionally even repeated applications of high factor suncream are inadequate to keep out the increased radiation from the suns rays.


On cue, right at the end of the month the big Elephant Seal bulls have started hauling out on the best breeding beaches.


The first Elephant Seal bull to haul out at king Edward Point, an early sign of spring.
The first Elephant Seal bull to haul out at king Edward Point, an early sign of spring.


Wildlife in the snow. Flash required for video.


To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

  • © Copyright GSGSSI 2013.