South Georgia Newsletter, February 2015

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

Director of Fisheries – New Government Position

A new position is being created within the GSGSSI team to manage the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands fisheries. Previously this role was combined with the job of the Chief Executive Officer.

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Maritime Zone (SGSSI MZ) covers over one million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean; an area which is also home to vast amounts of wildlife including penguins, seals and whales. It is important to regulate the fisheries to have minimal impact on the natural environment. A large part of the SGSSI MZ is a sustainable use Marine Protected Area (MPA) and supports fisheries for Patagonian & Antarctic toothfish, mackerel icefish and Antarctic krill. The fisheries management regime is recognised as one of the best in the world, with the Patagonian toothfish fishery certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and a significant part of the Antarctic krill and mackerel icefish fisheries also certified. It will be part of the Director of Fisheries role to continue to manage these fisheries sustainably and to the highest international standards, whilst maximising revenue.

The Director of Fisheries will join the GSGSSI team based in Government House in Stanley, Falkland Islands. The closing date for applications is March 31st 2015.

Full job description and application form here.

Final Phase of Massive Rat Eradication Project Underway

One of the SGHT helicopters baiting over the Barff Peninsula.
One of the SGHT helicopters baiting over the Barff Peninsula.

Baiting to eradicate rats from the south-eastern area of South Georgia began on February 13th. This is the third and final baiting phase of this multi-year project; the first (trial) area was baited four years ago. This season's work almost ended before it began when two of the three helicopters were damaged in a violent storm during the setup of equipment.

The aircraft were being used to lift pods of bait and barrels of fuel ashore from the support ship RRS Shackleton when the weather changed, preventing the aircraft from being able to fly back to Grytviken. Two helicopters were tied down ashore in as sheltered a spot as possible. The ship then returned to King Edward Cove to wait out predicted storm. The storm that came through was severe. In the cove winds of well in excess of 50 knots were measured. Two days later, after the winds had dropped, the ship returned to Royal Bay to find that the two helicopters left there had been affected.

Project Leader Tony Martin described the scene, “It was a sight that we all thought might spell the end of the project. It was undoubtedly the worst moment of my five years at the helm. One helicopter had been spun ninety degrees and dug in at the heels as though a toy in the hands of a child. Meanwhile the other helicopter had one of its main rotor blades snapped like a stick – damage that none of our long-experienced pilots had ever heard of, let alone seen first hand.”

The shocked team considered their options, but soon ingenuity kicked in and the two engineers got busy. They were able to recover both aircraft to the ship by ferrying the rotor from the first back to fit to the one with the broken blade. With more repair work they soon had two machines in full working order and spare parts on order to fix the third.

Helicopter Engineers Sam and Paul check one of the helicopters after it had been damaged by high winds.
Helicopter Engineers Sam and Paul check one of the helicopters after it had been damaged by high winds.

On February 9th the field team were transferred from the ship to their base camp at King Edward Point (KEP) after which the ship departed. A few days later baiting began on the largest area on the whole island to be treated, the Barff Peninsula. Several good weather days allowed long days of flying and bait spreading. Bad weather days were used to prepare for the forward operating base at Cape Charlotte. More good weather followed and they had soon baited half the Phase Three area.

Since then, though two of the field team were moved to the Cape Charlotte camp 50km south-east of KEP to report on weather, bad weather has prevented almost all flying. To see the latest ‘Project News’ newsletter click here.

The baiting for Phase Three of the SGHT Habitat Restoration (rat eradication) Project is underway.
See the helicopters as they spread bait over the Barff Peninsula.

Fishing and Shipping News

Icefish trawler in Cumberland Bay.
Icefish trawler in Cumberland Bay.

There was just one fishing vessel operating in the zone in February. The trawler was fishing for icefish and had some reasonable catches. It left the fishery by the middle of the month.

February was one of the quieter periods in this tourist season with nine cruise ships calling during the month. However the cove was kept busy with several more visits from other vessels including five yachts, two of which were on charter. Yacht Golden Fleece was supporting a BBC wildlife film crew who had been filming for a week from a camp on shore on Zavadovski Island where the world’s largest chinstrap penguin colony is populated by over a million birds. The charter yacht Pelagic arrived later in the month to support a four-man kayak team aiming to circumnavigate the island (see below).

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ship RRS Shackleton made three port calls whilst under charter to the SGHT supporting their Habitat Restoration (rat eradication) Project (see above).

There was also a visit from a Royal Navy Vessel HMS Protector (see below).

Many Hands Make Light Work – HMS Protector at South Georgia

The Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Protector made a three day port visit to Grytviken in mid-February whilst on patrol in the area. The vessel had come up from the Antarctic. As she approached the island the ship called into Drygalski Fjord and made a radar survey of the Drygalski Glacier. On comparing the results to previous records they could see the considerable retreat and reduction in mass of this glacier.

HMS Protector crew were deployed on several events whilst the ship was at Grytviken. A mountain patrol was made by a party of Royal Marines. The ship’s divers made a survey of underwater structures in the harbour and located the rudder of the Argentine submarine Santa Fe which is close to one of the old whaling station jetties. The submarine was disabled during the war in 1982 and later deliberately sunk in deep waters just outside Cumberland Bay. Some of the crew were also deployed in Moraine Fjord for a beach clean; wreckage from the two fishing vessels that went aground at the entrance to the bay in 2003 still washes up on the surrounding beaches.

Away from work, all the crew had the opportunity to go ashore for leg stretches, and for keen runners there was an opportunity to join in a long run over Echo Pass to Harpon Bay. Other social events included a quiz and dinner aboard ship to which some of the locals were invited.

On leaving Grytviken on their way north-west, HMS Protector’s divers were deployed at Leith Harbour where they located two historic whale catchers that sank there during the 1960s. There are concerns that oil may be leaking out of the hulls of these vessels so the divers made a survey and reported their findings to GSGSSI.

Finally, the ship assisted further by recovering several fuel drums from the Undine area. Despite poor weather they were able to collect over twenty empty fuel drums; these had been stored for collection following completion of Phase Two of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project. Commander Richard Bird, the ship’s Executive Officer, led the recovery team. He said afterwards, “The ship’s company were extremely pleased that HMS Protector could play a significant part in this important and world leading operation and, despite worsening conditions, the team were able to remove the barrels causing the minimum amount of disruption to the hundreds of seals and penguins on the beach.”

Heritage Experts Visit South Georgia

Heritage experts, and members of the Heritage Advisory Panel, Susan Barr and Michael Morrison briefly visited South Georgia in February in the company of GSGSSI Chief Executive, Martin Collins and Head of the Polar Regions Department in the FCO, Jane Rumble. The purpose of the visit was to review the heritage work undertaken as part of the joint funding agreement between Norway and the UK, to review the condition of the whaling stations and to discuss the heritage strategy for the next 5 years. Susan, who is a Senior Advisor in the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage, is a specialist in polar heritage with considerable experience in the Arctic and Antarctic. Michael, who is a senior partner with the architects Purcell, is the UK representative on the ICOMOS International Polar Heritage Committee and undertook a detailed survey of the whaling stations for GSGSSI in 2011. During the visit Michael and Susan spent two days at Grytviken and also visited the old whaling stations in Stromness Bay and at Prince Olav Harbour, in the company of Martin, Jane and Dave Peck.

Susan Barr, Jane Rumble and Michael Morrison preparing to visit Prince Olav Harbour whaling station.
Susan Barr, Jane Rumble and Michael Morrison preparing to visit Prince Olav Harbour whaling station.

British Antarctic Monument Trust Visit

A group representing the British Antarctic Monument Trust (BAMT) travelled through Grytviken aboard the cruise ship Ushuaia. Before coming to South Georgia they had unveiled the second half of a two-part monument in Stanley, Falkland Islands, on February 25th. The Stanley section of the sculpture has on it the names of Britons who lost their lives in support of science in Antarctica, most of whom were employed by the British Antarctic Survey and it’s precursor, the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. As the sun moves around the sculpture, the sculpture’s shadow passes across each name. Officiating at the unveiling was the Bishop of the Falklands, The Rt. Rev. Nigel Stock and in attendance was the Commissioner Colin Roberts.

Several relatives and comrades of the twenty nine people who died whilst working in Antarctica were amongst the group aboard Ushuaia. Felicity Aston, an ambassador for the BAMT said, “The majority of personnel working in the British Antarctic Territory are young, which makes the losses even more tragic. It also means that there are many remaining relatives.

A main aim of the monument is to generate awareness. Chairman of the BAMT. Roderick Rhys Jones, was with the visiting group and said “I was a surveyor on an expedition from the British Antarctic Survey’s Research Station Halley Bay in 1965 when three of my colleagues were killed when their tractor fell into a crevasse. I have never forgotten them and wanted to create a lasting monument to them and the others who lost their lives in the pursuit of science in Antarctica.”

The northern section of the monument, which was designed by Oliver Barratt, is in Cambridge at the Scott Polar Research Institute. This part of the sculpture has two British oak pillars which create a long needle shape space between them. The southern section at Stanley is in the historic dockyard area and is a steel needle with a mirror surface that reflects the water and clouds. The two parts of the sculpture represent the link between Britain and the Antarctic, whilst also showing the emotional and physical separation experienced by explorers and their families left behind in Britain. This is underlined with the wording on the monument, ‘Together in distance and time’. On both sections of the monument there is also the wording ‘For those who lost their lives in Antarctica in pursuit of science to benefit us all’. A further memorial, placed in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, London, and dedicated in May 2011, has the same wording.

After the unveiling in Stanley, Ushuaia sailed on to South Georgia. Several of the people in the group had worked at KEP and so were invited for a tour of the base and to revisit the areas where they had worked. The BAS team annual mid-winter team photographs on the wall of the main dining room, got special attention as people picked out their younger selves.

The vessel will also visit Signy Island and the stations of the Antarctic Peninsula where the BAMT party will be visiting the graves and memorials of those who did not return.

The Stanley section of the monument for Britons who lost their lives in support of science in Antarctica.
The Stanley section of the monument for Britons who lost their lives in support of science in Antarctica.

Albatross: New Stamp Release

Based on text by Andy Black.

A new stamp release featuring four species of albatross was released on January 30th.

As a group, albatross are the most endangered family of birds in the world with 15 of the 22 species listed by IUCN as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. South Georgia supports internationally important populations of four species of albatross, including the world’s largest populations of grey-headed and, probably, light-mantled albatross, the second largest population of wandering albatross and the third largest population of black-browed albatross.

On South Georgia, the majority of albatross breeding sites are found on offshore islands at the northern and southern extremes of mainland South Georgia (and Annenkov Island); the exception being the light-mantled albatross, which are scattered across the entire Island. Bird Island, off the northern tip of South Georgia, is the most significant breeding site for albatross in the archipelago.

Since the 1970s annual counts of all wandering albatross nests and selected study colonies of black-browed and grey-headed albatross have shown a steady decline in the populations of all these birds. Island wide censuses in the 1980s were repeated in 2003/04 and confirmed the declining trend throughout the islands. It is believed that the major threats to these species are encountered at sea. Many birds are known to be killed in longline and trawl fisheries throughout the southern hemisphere. Although there are fisheries within the SGSSI Marine Protected Area, strict mitigation measures are used to reduce seabird mortality to minimal levels. However, albatrosses travel vast distances to feed or overwinter in other regions, where they are exposed to numerous fisheries that are not so strictly regulated.

Black-browed albatross, 70p stamp: On South Georgia, black-browed albatross breed colonially on steep, tussac covered, slopes, sometimes mixed with grey-headed albatross. The average age of first time breeders is 10 years of age for this annually breeding species. Adults return to colonies in September and chicks fledge in April or May. Outside the breeding period, these birds depart from South Georgia to forage over continental shelf waters off the west coast of southern Africa. It is here that they are exposed to mortality in a number of trawl and longline fisheries. The last island-wide census of the South Georgia breeding population in 2003/04 recorded 74,296 pairs, which represented about 12.4% of the world population.

Grey-headed albatross, 80p stamp: Although often found breeding along with black-browed albatrosses, grey-headed albatross only attempt to breed every other year. On average, these birds do not breed for the first time until they are 12 years old. Breeding birds return to colonies in September and chicks fledge in April or May. Outside the breeding season, most of these birds depart from South Georgia waters and spread widely throughout the Southern Ocean, and may make several complete global circumnavigations between breeding attempts. The last Island-wide census (in 2002/03) recorded 47,674 breeding pairs, which represents approximately half of this Endangered species’ global population.

Light-mantled albatross, £1 stamp: Unlike the other species of albatross breeding on South Georgia, light-mantled albatross are wide-spread and can be found in low numbers around the entire coastline. The dispersed nature of nest sites mean that an island-wide census would be extremely difficult and has not been attempted to-date. However, the South Georgia population is estimated to be between 5-7,500 pairs, equivalent to about 25% of the world population, representing the world’s largest breeding population. It is not possible to assess the population trend of this species.

Light-mantled albatross are regarded as the most southerly distributed of all the albatross species, often foraging near the edge of the Antarctic pack-ice. Light-mantled albatross are biennial breeders that return to breed in September and chicks fledge in late May or June. During courtship, pairs engage in synchronised flight, which is very characteristic of this species.

Wandering albatross, £1.25 stamp: South Georgia is home to approximately 25% of the world’s wandering albatross population. They breed at 30 sites on South Georgia, including Prion Island where visitors have the opportunity to see these birds on the nest. However, the majority (61%) are found on Bird Island off the northern tip of the mainland. Annual counts of the nests of this biennially breeding species have identified a steady decline in numbers, between 1984 and 2004 the population fell by 30%.

Wandering albatross are one of the largest flying birds in the world, with a wingspan of up to 3.5m and weight of 12kg. To raise a chick to this size takes nearly a year, with eggs laid in December or January producing fledglings in the following December. During the breeding period, adults may fly over 4,000km from the nest site in search of food, which is mostly squid.

As part of their commitment to the international Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP) the Government of South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands has undertaken surveys of black-browed, grey-headed and wandering albatross during this summer.

South Georgia stamps and First Day Covers can be bought from

Goodbye to Leith Harbour Doctor

Dr. Michael Gilkes FRCS, FRCOphth., FRGS, started his professional medical career as the Leith Harbour whaling station Medical Officer. As a newly qualified doctor, Michael Gilkes travelling from Leith, Scotland, aboard Saluta to become Medical Officer at Leith whaling station from 1946 to 1948. Whilst there he lived in the whaling station Manager’s Villa. His time at South Georgia coincided with the visit of explorer Niall Rankin. The two men got on well and Michael was invited along on several expeditionary trips around the island. This is something he mentions in one of several articles about his experiences and opinions on South Georgia for the Polar Publishing website. After South Georgia he went aboard the whaling factory ship Southern Harvester to act as ship's surgeon.

On returning to the UK, he was house surgeon at the Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital, after which he trained as an eye surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. He later took a position as a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Sussex Eye Hospital where he worked for thirty years. His work also took him to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan as a visiting consultant and examiner.

Throughout his life he retained an interest in South Georgia and the Antarctic and he accumulated a huge library on the region. He was a founder Friend of SPRI, a founding member of the James Caird Society, and was a member of the South Georgia Association. His wide ranging other interests included model engineering and competitive sailing.

After a 40 year gap Michael returned to South Georgia aboard a cruise ship. A trip he repeated several times afterwards.

Michael Gilkes died on December 22nd 2014, leaving his wife, Audrey, who was his theatre sister for many years, and a son and two daughters.

Based on an obituary published in the British Medical Journal.

Thirteen – Lucky for the SG Island Circumnavigation Paddlers

The South Georgia Circumnavigators. Photo Sarah Browning.
The South Georgia Circumnavigators. Photo Sarah Browning.

A four-man Australian kayak team has smashed the record for the fastest kayak circumnavigation of South Georgia. They completed the round-island journey in just thirteen days.

The team arrived at Grytviken aboard the support yacht Pelagic on February 2nd where they were reunited with their four kayaks which had been dropped off for them by a cruise ship a few weeks earlier. They spent just one day preparing and then launched their kayak circumnavigation attempt the next day in stormy weather, making just 5km before going ashore for their first camp, but they were underway. They started paddling with borrowed paddles as their own had not arrived with them in the Falkland Islands as planned. They were reunited with their own paddles after a couple of days in the Bay of Isles when they met up with a cruise ship that had bought their paddles to the island. They rounded the northern end of the island on February 8th, on a day which saw them cover 55km. This was followed by a 70km paddle the next day, which took them a good way down the exposed south coast.

Once they rounded the south-eastern end of the island they allowed themselves some time watching the penguins at St Andrews Bay. Their last camp was in Cobblers Cove, and so on a very windy day they finished the round-island trip on the 15th.

At the end the team said “Finished!!! Awesome paddle by all in one of the, if not the, most amazing place in the World.”

The circumnavigation of South Georgia by kayak was first achieved in 2005 after two previous attempts in 1991 and 1996 had failed. The two attempts in 2005 turned into a bit of a race. A three-man ‘Adventure Philosophy’ team from New Zealand were the first to set off and were the first to complete the round-island journey, taking 19 days. The second team started out more than a month later, completing the circumnavigation in 17days.

The South Georgia Circumnavigators have knocked four days off that time, though before they set out they had denied it was their intention to break any records.

On their way out from the island the team also did the Shackleton Traverse and some mountaineering in the northern region of the island, including summiting Snow Peak and four other peaks in the area.

The expedition had daily updates on their Facebook page

Old Birds as Good as Young at Foraging

A study of wandering albatross on Bird Island has shown that old age does not affect the bird’s foraging ability. Wandering albatross can live to over fifty years old. The older birds may be affected by age-related reduction in muscle function and eyesight but that does not appear to affect their foraging behaviour. However, their breeding success tails off from their late teens onwards, and scientists had postulated that this could be due to a gradual decline in foraging ability. The recently published study that was conducted by BAS and the University of Edinburgh disproves this suggestion.

For their research the scientists used GPS tags which were attached to the birds’ legs to track their movements. The tags record the number and duration of landings to capture prey. The results, when analysed, showed that most of the older birds flew just as far and landed as often as their younger counterparts and were not impaired by their 'old age'.

Dr. Richard Phillips, Seabird Ecologist at British Antarctic Survey said, "This work is really interesting because we could not detect a correlation between the poorer breeding success of older birds and their foraging ability. This contrasts with research on wandering albatross populations in the Indian Ocean, where there appeared to be a link, and where old males were more likely than young males to travel south to Antarctic waters to feed. What we need to find out next is what makes life on South Georgia so different."

The research paper was published in the journal PLOS ONE last month.

Bird Island Diary

By Cian Luck, Zoological Field Assistant – Seals at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

February has been a pleasant and productive month for the humans and animals of Bird Island. The beaches have quietened down enough for us to get out and about along the shores again now that the territorial fur seal males have left. This was good timing, as one of the big jobs for the seal team this month has been tracking down the pups born on the study beach (SSB). By now they’ve scattered far from the beaches where they were born so we had a lot of fun finding them anywhere from the shallow waters to high up in the hills.

Tracking down seal pups on the rocky beaches. Photo Adam Bradley.
Tracking down seal pups on the rocky beaches. Photo Adam Bradley.

The whole base again mucked in to weigh penguin chicks and for fur seal puppy weighing. The macaroni chicks were also tagged in the hope of recognising them when they return to the colony in future years. Afterwards it took us a couple days to get the smell of penguins out of our noses!

The wandering albatross eggs, which have been incubating since mid-December, have finally started to hatch. If you’re lucky at this time of year you can hear the chick calling to its parent from inside the egg. It will be a treat to soon see so many of the island’s nests occupied with little chicks. The incoming winter team will have the pleasure of watching them grow from a bird that can sit in the palm of your hand to the world’s largest flying bird in a matter of months.

A wandering albatross and its egg. The chick’s beak is just poking through the egg shell. Photo by Alastair Wilson.
A wandering albatross and its egg. The chick’s beak is just poking through the egg shell. Photo by Alastair Wilson.

Even without the wildlife, life on base has been busy this month. The RRS Ernest Shackleton stopped in for a mid-season ship call, bringing with it cargo, post, new personnel, fuel, and some freshies (including one delicious pack of cherry tomatoes which were immediately devoured). The bulk fuel system, which was installed last season, was refuelled from the ship for the first time, and much to everyone’s satisfaction it went off without a hitch. The days of rolling barrels up the Bird Island jetty are now a thing of the past.

A busy day at the jetty during the RRS Ernest Shackleton relief call. Photo by Adam Bradley.
A busy day at the jetty during the RRS Ernest Shackleton relief call. Photo by Adam Bradley.

When the busy work schedule allows we have been keen to get out and about in the sporadic spells of nice weather and have been rewarded with a few spectacular whale sightings, one rare sighting of swallows, a handful of gorgeous sunsets, some beautiful night skies, and even a little sunburn for good measure.

Base personnel appreciating a clear and starry night. Photo by Alastair Wilson.
Base personnel appreciating a clear and starry night. Photo by Alastair Wilson.

South Georgia Snippets

Cpt Ken retires: After almost a decade at the helm of the Pharos SG, Captain Ken Whittaker has retired from his role as master. Following Byron Marine’s purchase of the Pharos SG from the Northern Lighthouse Board, Ken brought the vessel south and has alternated as captain since. In his time as captain, Ken has been involved in many important South Georgia projects, including the reindeer eradication, undertaken many nautical miles of fishery patrol and overseen countless boardings of fishing vessels. With his tremendous knowledge of South Georgia waters and ship-handling skills, Ken will be greatly missed.

Captain Ken Whittaker at a goodbye dinner in Carse House.
Captain Ken Whittaker at a goodbye dinner in Carse House.

The last reindeer: Three male reindeer were spotted on February 14th by a field party and one of the helicopters baiting the Barff Peninsula to remove rats (see above). The Barff Peninsula was largely cleared of introduced reindeer last summer, with a further ‘mopping up’ operation carried out by the same Norwegian SNO marksmen earlier this season. Although the reindeer were skittish around the helicopter, once baiting operations had moved to the south the hunting party of three managed to get close enough to shoot the reindeer. It was notable that the three reindeer were in very good condition; heavy with big racks of antlers. Previously, with thousands of deer in the area, it was so overpopulated that the animals were small and in poor condition. Now it is hoped that the only reindeer which remains on South Georgia is the one on the Government crest, which is where it will remain, in recognition of the important part this charismatic species has played in the history of the island.

The three last reindeer?
The three last reindeer?

South Island Shakes: An earthquake measuring 5.4 magnitude occurred off the South Sandwich Islands on February 28th. The moderate earthquake was just north of the top of the island arc chain, 42km north off Visokoi island and at a depth of 89km.

The centre of the earthquake was north of the South Sandwich Island arc of islands. Map
The centre of the earthquake was north of the South Sandwich Island arc of islands. Map

BEST European Commission Initiative: The European Commission has announced a five-year programme BEST 2.0 (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in European Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories) that will allocate €6 million of funds to support and maintain “biodiversity and sustainable use of ecosystem services”.

The South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) is the coordinator for the South Atlantic Hub, which includes South Georgia and South Sandwich Isles, Ascension Island, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, and the Falkland Islands. Proposals for funding will be invited in June.

You can find out more on the SAERI website here.

Eventual winner Simon Browning on the homeward leg of the half marathon.  Photo Rachel Morris.
Eventual winner Simon Browning on the homeward leg of the half marathon. Photo Rachel Morris.

Sporting Weekend: A sporting weekend was enjoyed by everyone at KEP when the annual half marathon was followed the next day by the inaugural model sailing boat regatta. The half marathon went ahead despite an unpromising weather forecast, but luckily, on the day, the weather conditions turned out to be reasonable. A good field of 15 competitors took part. There were three classes; walkers, runklers and runners, and 12 of the competitors completed the course (two walkers took a route 4km shorter than the official route and one runkler retired half way).

The winner of the running class was Simon Browning in a time of 1hr 48min 55sec, knocking 18 minutes off his time from the previous year. Regular competitor Hugh Marsden was hot on his heels for most of the course, but a gap widened on the last leg back over Lewis Pass from Maiviken. Hugh finished three and a half minutes behind the winner. Competition for third place was hard fought for by Micky Sutcliffe and Matthew Phillips. Micky crossed the line just 25 seconds ahead of Matthew, and remarkably, all four runners completed this extremely challenging mountainous course in under two hours.

The model boat regatta the next day was a far less serious undertaking. Though several of the model boat entries had been made and modified over a long period, the majority had been made in the 24 hours preceding the event. Vessel captains looked dapper in their suitable boating outfits and many noses were put out of joint when one of the quicker vessels proved to be made out little more than polystyrene with a plastic bag sail - to add insult to injury the skipper on board the tiny vessel was a toy rat!

The skippers and their model boats for the inaugural model boat regatta.
The skippers and their model boats for the inaugural model boat regatta.

Penguin feather ball: Nature is ruled by mathematics and yet loves to play tricks and throw up surprises. A previously unseen phenomenon are these ‘penguin footballs’ that were found at St Andrews Bay. The bay is home to the world’s largest king penguin colony, and at his time of year many of the birds are up on the beach for a few weeks to moult their feathers. On close inspection the ‘penguin footballs’ are made up of the long tail feathers of the penguins. The balls were only seen at the river mouth, so perhaps the river water action, working in the opposite direction to the almost constant sea surf, resulted in the coagulation of the long moulted feathers, knitting them into the balls.

Penguin feather balls at St Andrew’s Bay. Photo Roland Gockel.
Penguin feather balls at St Andrew’s Bay. Photo Roland Gockel.

Successful year for the weed management team: Members of the Darwin funded weed management project team all gathered at KEP to share findings and consolidate their work this month. It has been a busy summer season surveying for introduced plants and implementing herbicide control in the Stromness Bay, Thatcher and Barff Peninsula. The information they have gathered will now be analysed and incorporated into the South Georgia weed management strategy. It is hoped that in the coming years the population sizes of non-native plant species on the island will be substantially reduced allowing native plants to prosper.

Dates for your Diary

‘Poles Apart: changing attitudes to whaling in the 20th century’: An exhibition at the Fife Fisheries Museum, Scotland, which aims to explain the history of whaling, from the fall of the Arctic industry in Dundee, to the rise and fall of the huge whaling industry in the Southern ocean, by using the opinions of those involved with the industries. The images and documents are from the St Andrews University Library, Special Collections. The exhibition features objects on loan from several museums including the South Georgia Museum. Objects featuring in the exhibition will include a corset, whale oil soap, jute, a seal skin chest, specimens from the Discovery Committee, knives, whale oil, baleen and harpoons. The exhibition opens on March 27th and will run through until May 31st.

‘Poles Apart: changing attitudes to whaling in the 20th century.’ Will be at the Fife Fisheries Museum, St Ayles, Harbourhead, Anstruther, KY10 3AB.

A talk entitled 'A Voyage to Antarctica - with Falklands and South Georgia’ will take place on March 29th in Powys, Wales. Presented by ornithologist and wildlife guide Simon Boyes, this illustrated talk will be on the incredible wildlife of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica. The talk starts at 2pm at Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve, Near Machynlleth, Powys.

In the late summer the penguin chicks and seal pups are adventurous and investigating their
environment. Watch as newly fledged chicks peck at the boots and walking kit of two people who
sat down to watch them at a lake that looked like a penguin spa.

The play ‘A Cinema in South Georgia’ will be performed at Coldingham Village Hall on March 27 & 28. It then transfers to the Maltings, Berwick-upon-Tweed on May 9 and London for a performance in the Old Red Lion Theatre, before debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s Pleasance Theatre on August 7.

Share the laughs, the sorrows and the songs as Eyemouth whaling men Jim, Archie, Fraser and wee Robbie emerge from recent history to tell us the moving story that is A Cinema in South Georgia.

This entirely new and original piece of ensemble theatre written by Jeffrey Mayhew and Susan Wilson brings to life the experiences - bitter, hilarious, rueful and heart-warming - of some of the last men to follow the millennia-old tradition of hunting the whale. Driven by dire need, difficult home circumstances or just the desire to break away, men from these islands found their way, by one route or another, to the whaling grounds of the Antarctic. There, from the grim and perilous foothold of the whaling station on South Georgia, they ventured out into the ice and storms in what would seem to us to be tiny whaling ships to hunt the whale.

Jeffrey and Susan hope that this play, based entirely on written and oral first-hand accounts and detailed research into the period in and around 1959, the pivotal year for the show, will evoke for contemporary audiences the flavour of those times. Aspects of this subject are contentious and the darker side of the whaling industry is not shied away from but the piece is above all a celebration of four men, who, at differing points in their lives, in different ways and with differing attitudes and outcomes risked their lives amongst the ice floes. (The Maltings, Berwick-upon-Tweed).

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