South Georgia Newsletter, Nov 2009

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Ex-Commissioner Parker Dies

Ex-Commissioner James Roland Walter Parker CMG OBE died this month. Parker, who was born in 1919, started his government service with the Ministry of Labour in 1938. He joined the army during WWII and though he lost half a leg, as a result of war injury, it did not adversely affect his future career.

After the war he resumed his duties with the ministry until seconded to the Foreign Office in 1966. Subsequent postings took him to Nigeria, Fiji, Gambia and South Africa until, in 1976, he was appointed Governor and Commander in Chief of the Falkland Islands and High Commissioner for the British Antarctic Territories. This four-year posting came at a time of increasing tensions in relations with Argentina, indeed the Argentine station at Southern Thule, in the South Sandwich Islands, was discovered just as he arrived in post.

Whilst involved in early implementation of some of the recommendations made in Lord Shackleton's report on the Falkland Islands, Parker was also interested in the more remote areas of his territory and described his annual visits to South Georgia and the British Antarctic Territories as “one of the main blessings of the job”.

He left the region in January 1980, and was succeeded in post by Rex Hunt. Parker retired from the FCO shortly after to settle in the west country.

Parker died peacefully at home on Tuesday 17th November 2009 aged 89 years.

(Info: The Dictionary of Falkland Biography.)

Fishing And Shipping News

The main cruise ship season is now under way and 13 cruise ships visited the Island in November. One vessel, the icebreaker Kapitan Klebnikov, had to cancel the South Georgia leg of its trip after being trapped for a week in the Antarctic ice during the previous trip.

“Clelia II” made her first visit to South Georgia.
“Clelia II” made her first visit to South Georgia.

One vessel new to South Georgia, “Clelia II”, picked up Government Officer Patrick Lurcock to go as GSGSSI observer. GSGSSI observes all new tour ships to the Island to see that the vessel meets the standard of operations and planning required. These include biosecurity arrangements; oil spill contingencies; waste handling; and Zodiac operations and shore landings, especially with regard to wildlife in the area.

Six yachts visited during November. Three of these were charter vessels, including “Golden Fleece” which was on a photographic expedition which included a visit to the South Sandwich Islands.

The BAS ship “RRS James Clark Ross” was here at the beginning of the month to deliver new staff and the main cargo for the year. Other visits were from the Royal Navy Destroyer“HMS Gloucester” and Royal Fleet Axillary (RFA) vessel “Gold Rover” (see below).

There is currently no fishing in the SGMZ.

GSGSSI Building Team Works On Various Projects

Stripping the old roof of the Gaol at KEP.
Stripping the old roof of the Gaol at KEP.

GSGSSI have recruited a small building team from the Falkland Islands to do a variety of building and maintenance tasks. The three-person team, including GSGSSI Clerk of Works David Peck, arrived at Grytviken on November 4th, but had started work en route. Travelling with the “FPV Pharos SG”, they were dropped in at Prince Olav whaling station to erect warnings signs and markers at the 200m boundary from the station; designed to keep visitors a safe distance away from the asbestos dangers within the station. They also visited Stromness whaling station to adjust the boundary markers there to assist tourist operations.

The team, who are living in the Little Villa at Grytviken, made use of some good weather to completed the regular asbestos management works, re-painting over asbestos gaskets etc amongst the remaining old machinery. Other works around the whaling station included rat proofing the Little Villa, and securing loose tin sheets on the remaining factory buildings.

Works undertaken so far at KEP include putting a new roof on the old gaol, and installing an extractor fan in the biosecurity building.

The team will be heading home for Christmas but have more work en route, including mending a leak in the roof of the old Manager's Villa at Husvik.

Mount Brooker, A Lasting Legacy To A Mountaineer

Ian Brooker, the RAF doctor who joined the 'British South Georgia Expedition', has died, aged 81.

Brooker was the last of five men recruited for the private expedition, under the leadership of George Sutton, to South Georgia in the summer 1954/55. The main focus of the expedition was mountaineering but they also undertook some survey work and glaciological studies.

Born in Calcutta, India, Brooker spent most of his childhood in Aberdeen, and enjoyed climbing in the Cairngorms. He studied medicine at Aberdeen University before joining the RAF in 1952.

He was the 'British South Georgia Expedition' doctor, but as an able mountaineer he is more often mentioned in “Glacier Island”, the book written after the expedition, for his climbing exploits. The expedition encountered all that this remote sub-Antarctic island could throw at them: severe weather; badly crevassed glaciers; injury and damaged equipment. Despite this he is said to have described the expedition as one of the best trips of his life.

The expedition made several first ascents of the Island's mountains. One, a 1881m peak at the southernmost end of the Allardyce range was to be named after him.

On returning to the UK, Brooker became a community doctor in Shetland. He returned to Aberdeen in the mid-1980s, working for a time as a medical examiner for the Civil Aviation Authority.

In the last 25 years of his life he and his wife travelled extensively to many places including Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Nepal and Tasmania. Brooker was described by his wife Marie as a doctor who “chose a different type of life. He always loved to travel and he loved mountain-climbing and hill-walking.”

He died peacefully from natural causes at Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen on December 1st.

For original article by Declan Harte click here.

Ian Brooker looking towards the Allardyce Peaks. From the book “Glacier Island”.
Ian Brooker looking towards the Allardyce Peaks. From the book “Glacier Island”.

Explosive Military Visit

“HMS Gloucester” was on patrol in the South Georgia area at the beginning of November. She was accompanied by the tanker “RFA Gold Rover”. The primary purpose of the visit was to demonstrate the ability of British Forces South Atlantic Islands to rapidly deploy a joint Task Force anywhere within the South Atlantic Area of Operations.

“HMS Gloucester” in Cumberland East Bay
“HMS Gloucester” in Cumberland East Bay

“HMS Gloucester” arrived at the Hope Point anchorage in the evening of 9th. And the RFA vessel the following day.

A four-person EOD team travelled down with the RN ship to deal with several pieces of ammunition and armaments that had been found around the Grytviken area. In poor weather, Government Officer Patrick Lurcock accompanied the EOD team to the marked sites. Heavy wet snow made the travelling difficult, and once at the locations, the new thickly lying snow made finding the ordinance tricky and in at least one case, too dangerous to pursue. Despite this half the known items were successfully recovered and made safe with a controlled explosion in the regular demolitions pit in Bore Valley. The remaining items will have to wait for the next EOD visit, possibly at the end of the summer.

The EOD team dig to try to find ordinance buried under deep snow. Photo Patrick Lurcock.
The EOD team dig to try to find ordinance buried under deep snow. Photo Patrick Lurcock.

The two vessels bought several other visitors, including Air Commodore Gordon Moulds, Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands (CBF), and his wife.

A service of remembrance, led by the chaplain of “HMS Gloucester”, was held in the church at Grytviken on November 10th. The service was well attended by the ships' crews and local populace, bringing the congregation to nearly 150 people. A white ensign was draped on the altar and a poppy wreaths were laid by Commander Iain Lower, Captain of “HMS Gloucester”, and by Air Commodore Moulds.

Using the ship's helicopter from “HMS Gloucester”, photographs were taken of several glacier fronts. These can now be compared with older photographs to see glacial changes. The expectation is that they will show substantial glacial retreat. The pilot also took the opportunity to survey potential helicopter landing sites in the Grytviken area.

With assistance from the boats and personnel from KEP base, almost all the people aboard the two ships were able to make shore visits.

Commander Iain Lower, Gloucester's commanding officer, said, “Along with a deterrence patrol to counter would-be illegal fishing vessels, we've been able to enhance the search and rescue capability of South Georgia. This patrol has also been a unique opportunity for my ship's company, many of whom are on their first deployment with the Royal Navy, to experience this stunning and unique scenery.”

Info 'The News', Portsmouth

A service of remembrance was held in the church at Grytviken.
A service of remembrance was held in the church at Grytviken.

Service of Remembrance

SGHT Fund Raising Event At The Royal Geographical Society

By Alison Neil

On Tuesday November 10th a diverse audience of young and old, artists, SGA members, former and present day BAS scientists, SGHT supporters and Trustees, arrived at the RGS in London to support South Georgia Heritage Trust's (SGHT) second major fund raising event.

The evening began with a reception in the presence of SGHT's Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, who managed to talk to everyone in the packed out Map Room of the Royal Geographic Society where the reception was held.

HRH viewed the stunning art that had been contributed by several well-known artists towards the event, including Chris Furse, John Gale, Steve Massam, Bruce Pearson, Elaine Shemilt, Molly Sheridan, Mike Skidmore and Claire Tancell. Chris, Mike, Bruce and Elaine were present at the event and were introduced to HRH. The exhibition of their art was enjoyed by all of the audience.

The sale of the art that was donated for the event will help to raise funds for South Georgia. Several of the pieces on show at the RGS are now displayed for purchase in the new SGHT online gallery of South Georgia art, developed and designed by the Centre for Remote Environments. You can view this gallery at For each work of art sold the artists have pledged that at least one third of the sale price goes to benefit SGHT’s conservation work for South Georgia.

HRH The Princess Royal was then invited to speak on SGHT's work by SGHT Chairman Howard Pearce. HRH spoke of her own experience of visiting South Georgia in March 2009. Her knowledge and commitment to the SGHT 'Habitat Restoration Programme' to protect South Georgia's birds greatly impressed the audience.

HRH The Princess Royal attended the SGHT fund raiser at the RGS.
HRH The Princess Royal attended the SGHT fund raiser at the RGS.

HRH was delighted to announce that SGHT Trustee Prof. Frederik Paulsen had made a donation of 1.5 million over five years to this project, which, combined with a major donation from the Island Foundation, will provide 40% of the total funds needed to eliminate South Georgia's rats.

HRH then introduced the evening's main speaker, the well known TV Wildlife Presenter Nigel Marven. After visiting South Georgia in 2006 and filming 'Penguin Week', Nigel was keen to support South Georgia's wildlife by presenting on his time in South Georgia. The audience loved Nigel's film of macaroni, king and gentoo penguins, and all the audience were enthralled by the sight of a pipit feeding it's young, rare footage due to the scarcity of this endemic song bird is excluded from much of South Georgia by rats.

There was time after Nigel's talk for everyone to chat and catch up with friends old and new, and for Nigel to sign autographs for his young fans. An auction of exclusive DVDs of Penguin Week that Nigel had brought for the fund-raiser completed the evening. In ticket sales and donations alone over £3,000 was raised and we would like to thank everyone involved for making this such an enjoyable and successful SGHT event.

Nigel Marven was the main speaker.
Nigel Marven was the main speaker.

New Chairman For The South Georgia Association

The South Georgia Association has announced the name of its new chairman. He is Professor David J. Drewry, a former director of the Scott Polar Research Institute and of the British Antarctic Survey and Director General of the British Council, who has recently retired as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hull. Professor Drewry will take over from the acting Chairman David Tatham on January 1st 2010.

Speaking of his appointment, Professor Drewry said: “I am delighted to have been elected to this position and to take over from the very capable hands of David Tatham. South Georgia holds a special place in the hearts of those who work in and travel to Antarctica, even if they have not visited themselves. Its breathtaking scenery, prolific and colourful wildlife combined with a rich history of exploration and economic activity have made it a place of considerable significance. I hope that I can assist in promoting further the aims of the Association, of South Georgia and the many opportunities it presents.”

Troubled Water

The artist Bruce Pearson visited last month as part of his three-year 'Troubled Water' project to support and promote seabird conservation.

In his proposal for the project Pearson, who worked at Bird Island in the 1970s, writes that encountering the enigmatic ocean wanderers on their breeding grounds as a young man and fine art graduate was inspirational and sketched future possibilities for his career as an artist and naturalist. With wandering albatrosses having the potential to live up to 50 or 60 years, he believed many of the wandering albatross chicks he ringed as a 25 year old would outlive him, but accepts now that many will actually have been caught on longline hooks and drowned. With their population declining at an alarming rate and extinction threatening, the artist feels strongly about their plight and wants to do what he can to help and support the conservation effort.

He says: “Seabirds, particularly albatrosses, are becoming increasingly threatened both on land and sea at a faster rate globally than all other species-groups of birds. The threats are varied, but currently the most critical conservation problem is the hundreds of thousands caught annually by long-line fishing vessels. It is estimated that pirate fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean alone kill over 100,000 birds each year - including tens of thousands of albatrosses. However mortality can be reduced to negligible levels if fisheries management authorities adopt a suite of operationally benign mitigation measures promoted by the RSPB and BirdLife working together through the Albatross Task Force. Fishermen are encourage to deploy simple cost-effective sea-bird avoidance measures.....but passing on information about how albatross numbers are declining, promoting the cultural value of seabirds, and explaining that extinction of some species is quite possible if nothing is done are equally important to the conservation effort. In some fisheries dramatic results have been achieved, but there is an urgent need to explore other routes to raising environmental awareness by looking beyond the statistics, raw data, and science to find ways through culture to engage with fishing communities and their representatives, educators, and politicians.”

Pearson believes that art has an enormous potential to do exactly that. He plans to be 'embedded' as a visual artist in the Global Seabird Programme to witness and explore current conservation concerns. He wants to spend time on a long-line fishing vessel to experience the interaction of birds and fishing ships at sea. Finally he wants to express creatively a personal involvement with seabirds. The result of the project will be a body of work that can be exhibited widely, including among the long-line fishing communities. Pearson hopes the exhibitions would offer opportunities to influence decision-makers, raise awareness about specific conservation issues, and also raise funds. By celebrating birds and people, he hopes that the fine arts will be shown to help the conservation cause by “revealing the intangible non-consumptive value of wildlife to people.”

After his visit to South Georgia the next step, in early 2010, is for him to go to sea on a pelagic long-line fishing vessel.

Bruce Pearson painting aboard ship.
Bruce Pearson painting aboard ship.

First Ascent Of Mt Ashley

A mountaineering expedition aboard charter yacht “Pelagic Australis” ended their visit to the Island with a successful first ascent of the 1145m Mt Ashley.

Having camped ashore the night before, Skip Novak and Crag Jones set out very early, and in mainly whiteout conditions, from Salisbury Plain on October 30th for a one day push. The pair skied the first hour and a half up to the top of the Grace Glacier where they left their skis and started climbing on foot.

Mt Ashley. Photo Crag Jones.
Mt Ashley. Photo Crag Jones.

The very bad visibility made for slow progress, especially as it was not clear which of several possible tops was the highest. They finally identified what they thought was the highest point, the second of four summits in a chain stretching away to the south-east over about a mile. They walked up a relatively easy slope to a col between the first and second top, then climbed 100m up a steep icy dome to the second top, the last pitch being belayed from ice screws. They waited there for visibility to improve so they could confirm that this top was higher than the third or fourth tops in the distance. When the clearing came however, the ridge behind them that led back to the first top disappeared worryingly for several hundred feet higher until it disappeared into the cloud. They decided to descend back to the col and ascended this ridge up to the first and highest top. The broad ridge was straightforward climbing but the peak was spectacular, with vast drops off to the north. Nine hours after starting out the climbers moved together up through the final hoar-frosted towers to a flat summit. Now above the upper level of the clouds they were rewarded with lovely views of the surrounding mountain summits.

The return journey was once again plagued with whiteout conditions so they had to follow GPS positions to find the col and the correct decent back to the skis. Having not seen any evidence of crevasses on the ascent they were then able to descend unroped on skis., though the steady snowfall and heavy mist meant they still had to follow a GPS bearing until nearly back to sea level. At 7pm they were back at the beach, having packed up their camp, and were recovered to “Pelagic Australis”. The mountaineers believe this to the first time this mountain has been climbed.

Skip Novak on the summit.
Skip Novak on the summit.

A Couple Of Wedding Couples

With only two South Georgia weddings planned for the summer, it was quite a surprise when they both ended up being on November 18th.

Though they were on the same day, they were very different occasions. The first couple, married in the morning, were Martin Biuw and Aline Arriola-Ortiz. They have been on the Island for a few weeks, working at Husvik as part of a four-person team researching elephant seals. The wedding was performed outdoors, in front of 'Webcam 1' (this website) at King Edward Point, so their friends and family the other side of the world could be involved; there was also a small audience of locals. The couple wore gortex jackets, working trousers and walking boots. The bride had a hand-tied bouquet of tussac grass. Their witnesses were their co-researchers Lars Boehme and Theoni Photopoulos.

As the weather was cold and blustery the signing was done in nearby Shackleton Villa where an impromptu celebration was held to toast the couple and a surprise wedding cake with chocolate elephant seal faces was produced.

Martin and Aline were married in front of 'Webcam1'.
Martin and Aline were married in front of 'Webcam1'.

The second wedding was in the late afternoon. Groom Remco Masmeijer and bride Sabine Lokin arrived as tourists aboard tour ship “Prince Albert II”. Although they are regular travellers, this was their first visit to South Georgia. They chose to get married in the church at Grytviken and all the passengers on the ship were invited to attend. The bride wore a beautiful white full length halter-neck gown with a pink shawl. The groom wore a black suit and pink tie. The witnesses were Expedition Leader Robin West and Hotel Director Thomas Barth. The couple were toasted in the church with champagne before returning to the ship where they were presented with a enormous and beautiful wedding cake, big enough so everybody aboard could enjoy a piece. The couple had only told their parents about their plans for a South Georgia wedding, but as soon as the news was out they got many congratulatory emails. Back at their local airport they were met with flowers and banners and once home found the house had been decorated with balloons, banners and flowers by their friends.

Both civil weddings were performed by Registrar Sarah Lurcock.

Remco and Sabine were married in the church.
Remco and Sabine were married in the church.
Both the wedding couples with Registrar Sarah Lurcock.
Both the wedding couples with Registrar Sarah Lurcock.

Bird Island News

By Stacey Adlard, Zoological Field Assistant at the BAS station, Bird Island.

November began with a visit by our resupply ship "RRS James Clark Ross" to deliver cargo, fuel and food for the year and to remove waste from the winter. Particularly welcome were parcels and mail from home, and the arrival of fresh fruit and vegetables. We said goodbye to José, who had spent the winter with us working on the wandering albatrosses and gentoo penguins. In his place, we welcomed in the new summer staff, which includes Sam, our summer base commander, Joe, our new wintering technical services man, Mick and Claudia, who are to replace Ewan and Derren as seal and albatross zoological field assistants, and Encarna, who is here collecting tissue samples from dead seals for her PhD. There were also several visitors staying a couple of days, including the BAS director, Nick Owens. Seventeen people on base was a bit of a shock after the usual six, but the new staff seem to be settling in well.

Wildlife on the island has been busy this month too. The last leopard seal of the winter was seen on November 14th, but there are ever increasing numbers of fur seals since. The big males started returning first, to take up territories on the beaches. Later, the females started to return to pup. The first pup on the seal study beach was born on November 17th. The fur seals are slow to return this year and we are hoping this is not an indication of a poor breeding season. The arrival of the first pup gave us the excuse to dye our hair blonde - a long-standing Bird Island tradition - to mimic the seal pups that are born on the study beach and each given a blonde mark for identification.

Young fur seal pup. Photo Mick Mackey.
Young fur seal pup. Photo Mick Mackey.

The macaroni penguins started returning at the end of October. The colony at Big Mac contains around 80,000 birds when full, and the sight, sound and smell are very impressive! Both the gentoo and macaroni penguins are currently just coming to the end of their egg laying period. It will be a month before they hatch.

Big Mac on a sunny day. Photo Stacey Adlard.
Big Mac on a sunny day. Photo Stacey Adlard.

The young wandering albatrosses that have been with us all year are finally starting to fledge. They can be seen on windy days taxiing down the meadows and jumping up in the air excitedly, only to fall back to the ground in an undignified manner. It will be a while yet before the youngest of these master the technique and head for the open oceans. The adult wanderers also started returning to breed in November. They are now rebuilding old nests, bonding with their partners and displaying with wings outstretched and beak pointed to the sky to impress unpaired birds in the area.

Young wanderer trying out its wings. Photo Stacey Adlard.
Young wanderer trying out its wings. Photo Stacey Adlard.

The first chick of the year hatched on November 16th and belonged to a pair of northern giant petrels. Since this date, chicks have been hatching daily and I now have over 100 in the study area on the meadows. It will only be a few days before the oldest of these are left unguarded by their parents who will need to leave in search of food for them.

Some stunning footage of a young wanderer close to fledging, a vagrant breeder and the returning fur seals at Bird Island in November.

South Georgia Snippets

It has felt like an extended winter with temperatures rarely rising much above freezing and days and days where considerable amounts of snow fell. On the 22nd, for instance, we received 20-25cm of snow at KEP and had to close the track to Grytviken due to avalanche risk.

The new Government Officer Keiron Fraser and his wife Ruth arrived on the 4th. Keiron, who has worked for BAS as a Marine Biologist and diver at Rothera, has also helped Ruth run various companies in more recent years. Ruth will be working at the SG Museum and in the Post Office as well as continuing several other work ventures.

Four recent new arrivals at KEP, l to r: Keiron and Ruth Fraser, Base Commander Ali Massey and Doctor Susan
Four recent new arrivals at KEP, l to r: Keiron and Ruth Fraser, Base Commander Ali Massey and Doctor Susan

The new Post Office at Grytviken was opened for the first time on the 11th. This small outlet can be opened on tour ships days to save the tourists the trouble of getting to KEP. This is especially welcome with the increasing numbers of fur seals making the walk around more challenging.

The first customer at the new Grytviken Post Office.
The first customer at the new Grytviken Post Office.

For much of the month KEP has been busy with more than twenty people. Those on job hand-overs or short term projects as visiting scientists and technicians have swelled the numbers.

It was a little quieter when several BAS personnel took the opportunity to visit Bird Island aboard the “JCR” to help with their resupply.

It is always sad to say goodbye to people, and on November 14th, after a year at KEP we were not happy to be waving goodbye to Doctor Angy Jones and Facilities Engineer Tommy Vintner.

We were sad to see them go but Angy and Tommy look happy to be headed home.
We were sad to see them go but Angy and Tommy look happy to be headed home.

One new arrival was handyman Hugh Marsden to join the Museum team.

Brian Summers, of the South Atlantic Invasive Species team (SAIS), was here for a few weeks to continue work on the invasive plants. Brian's visit coincided with the relentless bad weather and heavy snowfalls which severely hampered attempts to spray the bittercress infested areas. Further spraying will be done by the Government Officers later, once the snow has cleared.

The official opening of the biosecurity building was held on November 18th. Base Commander Ali Massey unveiled a plaque which reads: “Built by the Government of South Georgia with the assistance of the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme, European Union and the RSPB.”

Brian Summers at the official opening of the biosecurity building. Photo Patrick Lurcock.
Brian Summers at the official opening of the biosecurity building. Photo Patrick Lurcock.

Most of the rubbish created at KEP is recycled. A new tool was delivered this week to aid the process and to reduce the amount of space needed for storing up to a years worth of materials for recycling. The glass bottle shredder has been installed in the waste room. Bottles and jars are fed in the top and blades reduce them to glass shards. The different coloured glass will be separated to increase the value of the recycled material.

Press visit: Tony Curran, editor of the Falkland Island newspaper 'Penguin News' hitched a lift with the RN vessel and stayed at Carse House for a couple of nights so he could meet as many people working on the Island as possible. He plans to publish a series of articles as result of his visit.

A special service, to remember the whalers who died whilst working south, was held at the church in Sandefjord, Norway, on November 15th. The Rev'd Dr Richard Hines, Anglican rector of the Falkland Islands sent the following message: “On behalf of the Council and Congregation of Christ Church Cathedral in Stanley, capital town of the Falkland Islands, I send warm and sincere Christian greetings to you all in Sandefjord Church. We pray for you this coming weekend as you again remember those Norwegian whalers who – with great courage and seafaring skills – lived, worked, suffered and died in the South Atlantic waters, especially around the islands of South Georgia. We thank God for the stunning beauty of the places where we live and ask for his grace and wisdom to protect and manage these areas for the benefit and enjoyment of generations to come.”

An article about the resilience of South Georgia following former exploitation of its natural resources appears in the December edition of the 'National Geographic Magazine' The article, entitled “Resurrection Island” is by Kenneth Brower with stunning photographs Paul Nicklen. You can read it on the NG website here.

The crew and passengers on charter yacht “Xplore” felt quite deflated during their trip. Twice their rubber boat was punctured. The first time they had left the boat on the beach in Prince Olav Harbour and returned to find two male fur seals sitting either side of the Zodiac; one side of the boat was deflated. They launched the boat gingerly to return to the yacht where an inspection revealed that one of the fur seals had sunk its teeth into the back end of the dinghy.

The boat was repaired and the cruise continued toward the southern end of the Island, to Gold Harbour. This time the passengers were dropped ashore and the Zodiak returned to the yacht.

In the yacht's blog the Captain describes how, after picking them up again: “Within 10 seconds of leaving the beach the whole zodiac physically was shoved to the left, it felt like I had just driven the boat straight into a huge rock, a bit like when you drive dodgem cars at the side shows and no one gives a dam about the damage !! ca boom.” Startled, they saw a male elephant seal as he dove below the waters, then that familiar sinking feeling as the side of the Zodiac deflated. Despite the damage they were able to return to the yacht and had to work quickly to get everybody on board and haul up the boat before it sank. They don't know if the seal deliberately rammed them or not, but were confident the seal was unhurt by the contact, but, with a 1m tear in the dingy, could not say the same about the boat!

For the fuller story read the blog from the yacht here.

There were more adventures a little later in the month when a Shackleton Crossing party, led by mountaineers Dave Hahn, Peter Hillary and Deidre Galbraith, encountered difficult conditions. The eight members of 'Geographic Expeditions Shackleton Crossing' were supported by tour ship “Clelia II”. Poor weather meant that instead of being dropped in King Haakon Bay, as is normal for this route, the party were dropped in Possession Bay the other side of the Island. They then crossed over towards the southern side of the Island on snowshoes, before joining the route through the Tridents and on towards Stromness. They encountered plenty of leg engulfing crevasses , and the poor visibility and strong winds made the crossing slow. After a difficult descent, they finally reached Fortuna Bay where they elected to get picked up instead of pressing on to complete the short final leg into Stromness. Sea conditions were marginal for the pick-up by boat. The large surf was skilfully handled by the Zodiac drivers, but they all got a drenching before reaching the warmth of the ship where their achievements were toasted and the other passengers were keen to hear of their adventures. You can read more about the trip on Dave Hahn's blog here.

Heavy late snows this month made life less comfortable for the newly born reindeer fawns and for brooding birds like this light-mantled sooty albatross on its nest.
Heavy late snows this month made life less comfortable for the newly born reindeer fawns and for brooding birds like this light-mantled sooty albatross on its nest.

At KEP the last of the elephant seal females weaned their pups as November progressed. Now the place is littered with fat little weaners who get more adventurous by the day and all too soon will take off for the open sea.

More fat king penguins are hauling out and joining tatty groups all around for their annual moult. The male fur seals started to appear, though are pretty relaxed so early in the breeding season.

Jon Ashburner, the top-predator scientist, is making very regular visits to Maiviken to watch the progress at the penguin and seals study areas. He reports that the gentoo penguins made a very late start to nesting. There are very low numbers still compared to last year, this follows a winter where krill, their main foodstuff, was almost totally absent from the waters around the Island. The first fur seal pups were born by mid-month, and pink scats littering the ground in the fur seal areas are evidence that krill is now available as food to the wildlife.

The wildlife highlight at KEP came at the end of the month when there were several close encounters with humpback whales. Over a period of four consecutive days whales were seen in Cumberland East Bay. Out in the bay the harbour launches had a close inspection by two adults; two adult whales were seen close to Hope Point; and a mother and calf swam almost inside King Edward Cove. This was a busy period for shipping and boat movements but the whales did not seem deterred from the area by the activity. One cruise ship “Minerva” reported a pod of 20 to 25 killer whales off the southern end of the Island at Drygalski Fjord. The whales stayed with the ship for an hour, even bow-riding, and were very visible in clear water. As the ship then headed south for the peninsula they were treated to a further encounter with four rare blue whales.

For a bit of fun look up the 'Zeitcam' time-lapse movie from webcam 1 For November 22nd. It was a day of heavy snowfall and a clue is the title: “The rise and fall of the penguin” . To watch the movie click here.

View Of The Month

Don’t forget to see this month’s 'View of the Month' on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.

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