South Georgia Newsletter, November 2013

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

New Two-Year Fishing Licences

GSGSSI has announced it will issue two-year fishing licences to companies who successfully apply to fish for toothfish and icefish in the SGSSI Maritime Zone. The decision was made following consultation with the fishing industry and stakeholders. Responses to the consultation were all broadly supportive of the suggested move to two-year licences and the new system will take effect from the start of the 2013/14 season.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has set the toothfish catch limit in sub area 48.3(South Georgia) at 2400 tonnes, however GSGSSI has said it is likely to limit this to approximately 2200 tonnes in 2013/14. The catch limit for 2014/15 will be confirmed in December 2014, but is expected to be no less than 2000 tonnes. There are likely to be six licences offered for the two year period.

Applicants for the two-year licences will find the application system largely unchanged from previous licensing rounds and they will be assessed in the normal way with GSGSSI undertaking an initial sift of the applications and then seeking flag state advice from the Secretary of State. The new licences will not be transferrable to other owners or operators, though the Director of Fisheries may consider applications (by an operator) to change the vessel between years. Licences for the South Sandwich Islands (SSI) fishery will also be offered on a two-year basis. CCAMLR has set separate Patagonian (45 tonnes) and Antarctic (24 tonnes) toothfish quotas for sub area 48.4 (South Sandwich Islands) and it is likely that two vessels will be licensed to fish there.

For the Icefish fishery, CCAMLR has agreed a catch limit of 4,635 tonnes for 2013/14 and 2,659 tonnes for 2014/15. Under similar arrangements as for the Toothfish licencing, GSGSSI is likely to offer a maximum of 5 licences in this fishery.

You can read the long-term licences announcement in full here [pdf, 0.7Mb].

South Georgia Magistrate Sworn In At Government House

The incoming King Edward Point Base Commander, Richard Hall, was sworn in as a South Georgia Magistrate in a ceremony at Government House on November 12th. The ceremony was witnessed by the Commissioner, Nigel Haywood, who signed the appointment and was attended by the incoming BAS teams for the bases at King Edward Point and Bird Island.

Richard Hall and Commissioner, Nigel Haywood.
Richard Hall and Commissioner, Nigel Haywood.

Much Achieved In South Georgia In 2013

At a recent stakeholders meeting Commissioner Nigel Haywood told attendees that “much had been achieved in 2013”. The GSGSSI stakeholders meeting in London was opened by Head of FCO’s Polar Regions Unit, Jane Rumble and also on the panel were the Commissioner, and Chief Executive Martin Collins.

Martin Collins told the stakeholders that GSGSSI continues to have a cautionary approach to the setting of toothfish quotas. The catch limit had increased to 2,100t in 2013 and is expected to be set around the same level for 2014. The biomass of toothfish is approaching 50% which is the level necessary for a sustainable fishery. There were no major compliance issues with the six vessels licensed to fish for toothfish in 2013.

Liz Smith (Purcell UK) also addressed the stakeholders about on-going work to help conserve the heritage of South Georgia. She underlined that the old whaling station at Grytviken is unique, as it is the only former whaling station to be comprehensively cleaned-up and a key aim for the site is to retain its authenticity, supported by the development of a management and maintenance plan. Tony Martin, Project Leader of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project, reported to the meeting on the Project so far and the plans to start baiting the Phase 3 area in 2015.

For future plans for SGSSI, Martin Collins highlighted a number of activities including a legislative review for which expert drafters would be recruited.

Nigel Haywood closed the meeting by thanking the participants for attending and said; ‘much had been achieved in 2013, including the astonishing 3D survey work which was important to the preservation of history.” He said GSGSSI wanted to attract visitors to the island but are also keen to promote its important messages about environmental stewardship.

Notes from the stakeholders meeting, held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, can be downloaded here [docx, 0.2Mb].

Acceptable Level Of Non-Target Mortality

A recent report states that secondary mortality in ‘Phase 2’ of the SGHT Habitat Restoration, Project (rodent eradication) was at an acceptable level, and that the benefits of rodent removal to the island as a whole far outweigh any short-term impacts on the small number of species affected.

When baiting to remove rodents there is inevitably some non-target mortality. This is a result of birds either eating the poison bait or eating the carcasses of animals or birds that have died as a result of eating the bait. Only those birds that forage on land are potentially affected, so only seven of the thirty-five species of bird that nest on South Georgia are at risk, these are: South Georgia pintail: snowy sheathbill: brown skua; northern and southern giant petrel; Kelp gull; and the South Georgia pipit. It is important that such non-target mortality is monitored and minimised, so during Phase Two of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project a team of four GSGSSI fieldworkers, funded with the support of SGHT, were on the ground in the Stromness and Salisbury Plain areas. They monitored during and after baiting and also reduced the secondary mortality by removing any carcasses they found. In November they published a report on their findings on this website which concluded that overall secondary mortality was at an acceptable level, and the small number of species affected would recover quickly in the absence of rats.

Fieldworkers’ monitoring camp at Sea Leopard Fjord.
Fieldworkers’ monitoring camp at Sea Leopard Fjord.

The makeup and foraging behaviour of birds in the northern ‘Phase 2’ area differed from those in the central ‘Phase 1’ area, as the northern area included large king penguin colonies and many more fur seals. During ‘Phase 1’ the non-target species most at risk were found to be South Georgia pintail. In the ‘Phase 2’ area one of the most affected birds were brown skuas as, despite not having been seen to do so during ‘Phase 1’ the birds in the northern area were seen to have eaten bait directly as well as eating carcasses. South Georgia pintails were also vulnerable but this species, like all the affected species, have the potential to rapidly recover from any reduction in numbers once rats have gone from their breeding areas. Snowy sheathbills were potentially better off in the ‘Phase 2’ area than had been the case in ‘Phase 1’ as the large aggregations of birds around king penguin colonies seemed less vulnerable than the more scattered populations. kelp gull mortality remained low, as it had been in ‘Phase 1’, although post-baiting gull mortality has been high on other baited sub-Antarctic islands. Giant petrels were almost totally unaffected.

The field workers also observed helicopters flying over the king penguin colonies to monitor for disturbance, their report states the aircraft at 1000ft had no detectable effect on adults brooding eggs or chicks although there was some disturbance of ‘loafing’ birds.

Fishing and Shipping News

Fishing activity tailed off in November after the busier winter season. The krill fishing closed on October 31st so the last krill trawler made a final transhipment to a reefer anchored in Cumberland Bay on the November 1st before departing to fish in the South Orkneys. One icefish trawler was searching for icefish at the beginning of the month but, finding little, it too had departed by November 7th.

November was a busy month for cruise vessels; 11 cruise ships visited between the 9th and 29th. One cruise ship, Ortelius, reached the rarely visited South Sandwich Islands and was able to put scientist Tom Hart ashore on Saunders Island where he took soil samples and set up two camera-traps to monitor the penguin colonies.

Several yachts remained around the island at the start of the month and were joined by the charter yacht Santa Maria Australis supporting an expeditionary group. Another charter yacht, Golden Fleece, arrived from the Falklands with a three-man BBC film crew to film fur seals.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research ship RRS James Clark Ross arrived alongside the King Edward Point (KEP) jetty on November 20th and over the next two days the base was busy receiving all the stores needed for the year ahead.

A new Government Officer, Simon Browning, has been recruited by GSGSSI and started work on November 23rd. Simon’s last job was with the military based at MPA, Falklands. He is accompanied by his wife Sarah who will be assisting in the South Georgia Post Office.

HMS Protector On Patrol

HMS Protector
HMS Protector

The Royal Navy’s Ice Patrol Ship, HMS Protector was on patrol around South Georgia in late November. The ship is affectionately referred to as “the Royal Navy’s Swiss Army Knife” as she is red, versatile, and always there when you need her.

After calling at Husvik to assist with the recovery of equipment and supplies depoted there for the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project, the ship entered Cumberland Bay for a three-day visit, on November 24th. Whilst the ship was in harbour the embarked diving team made a survey of the KEP jetty.

Most of the ship’s crew managed to get ashore during the visit, which included a Sunday service in the church followed by coffee and cakes in the Museum.

A party of Royal Marines and crew took advantage of the opportunity for some expedition training and spent a night ashore testing their tents and other camping equipment before the ship headed down to the Antarctic continent.

The ship was also delivering back two old whaling harpoon heads that had been collected in the 1960s. An ex-serviceman had requested the Navy return them for him anonymously.

Reciprocal social invites were issued, with locals enjoying lunch on board and a chance to tour the ship, and the Captain Rhett Hatcher and other officers invited for dinner at Carse House.

Crew from HMS Protector carried out the request to return two old  whaling harpoon heads which were given to the South Georgia Museum.
Crew from HMS Protector carried out the request to return two old whaling harpoon heads which were given to the South Georgia Museum.

Grey-headed Albatross Added To The Endangered Species List

South Georgia is home to around half the global population of breeding grey-headed albatross and the rapid rate of decline in numbers in the South Georgia colonies of grey-headed albatross is a major contributing factor to the birds being newly listed as ‘Endangered’. Bird numbers have been declining very rapidly over three generations (90 years); the major driver of declines is likely to be incidental mortality when the birds come into contact with longline fisheries outside of the South Georgia area.

There is better news for black-browed albatross which have been down-listed to ‘Near Threatened’. The birds are considered to be less at risk as their colonies, especially in the Falklands where most of this species breed, are no longer recorded as undergoing very rapid population declines. In the Falklands there have been population increases during the 2000s, and possibly since the 1980s. These birds are still known though to be dying as a result of longline and trawl fishing activities in other areas of the South Atlantic.


Animator In SG

Scott Smith, a computer animation expert, has arrived at Grytviken to further his PhD study of the whaling station.

Mr Smith was previously a Senior Lecturer and Programme Director in 3D Computer Animation at the University of Wales and is now studying for a PhD at Dundee University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. As part of his PhD studies he aims to use computer animation techniques to digitally reconstruct the now abandoned industrial whaling site to enable visitors to Grytviken, and perhaps people using the internet, to gain a new understanding of the island’s rich cultural history.

Whilst in South Georgia for his seven-week field trip he is being hosted by the South Georgia Museum and supported by the South Georgia Heritage Trust.

Before he left Scotland Mr Smith said: “The main objective of the research is to take the existing knowledge of the whaling stations on South Georgia and repackage it, be it cinema, virtual reality, computer or mobile screen displays that enables a wider public understanding of the historical context and cultural heritage of the whaling industry…much of the former bustling whaling stations now lie empty…computer visualisation can be a very effective way of preserving the practices that once shaped and served communities.”

Industrial Archaeologist Professor Bjorn Basberg will also visit the island in December in his role overseeing the PhD. He said: “Computer animation is one way to visualise how these former industrial sites looked and operated. Scott Smith’s project will be of value for visitors understanding the remains of these complex former industrial plants as well as giving insight into the island’s unique heritage.”

(Info: The Scotsman)

Lucky Chick

By Bird Island scientist Stephanie Winnard

As part of the long term monitoring programme on Bird Island, the wandering albatross chicks are visited once a month to monitor breeding success. The monthly check in July proved more eventful than normal as one chick seemed to be missing. The bird had left its nest and fallen down a hole that was around a meter deep; it had become completely wedged in and soil had fallen on top of it so that all was visible was its head. After digging it free, an exhausted, mud-covered chick was eventually pulled out and returned to its nest.

Looking worse for wear, wanderer chick was dug out of the hole and returned to the nest.
Looking worse for wear, wanderer chick was dug out of the hole and returned to the nest.

At first one leg seemed injured but a few visits later the chick was sitting up again as normal, with little obvious permanent damage. Without the rescue the chick would surely have died because its parents would not have been likely to find it to feed it. Hopefully it will fledge in November or December with the rest of the 2013 cohort. Every chick is vitally important as the wandering albatross is now classified as vulnerable.

The lucky chick fully recovered.
The lucky chick fully recovered.

The Bird Island population has been monitored since 1958, and has shown a continual decrease in numbers. In 1972 there were 1582 pairs of breeding adults on the island, this year there were only 748 pairs, a reduction of 47% in 41 years. This massive decrease in population is thought to be due primarily to long-line fishing, which increased in popularity in the mid-1990s. Birds are hooked whilst trying to feed on fishing bait and drown. There are measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of hooking albatrosses which the South Georgia Government have implemented on fishing boats in the South Georgia Maritime Zone to address the problem. These include fishing at night, weighting the hooks so they are quickly out of reach of the birds, and using scarers on the lines. Since implementing these control measures, the number of birds killed has been massively reduced, with just 8 birds killed in the last 8 years. The problem for the albatrosses of Bird Island is that these measures are not used elsewhere and, as the birds are so wide-ranging, many are still being killed. Ringed birds have been recovered from fisheries operations as far away as South Africa, South America and Australia/New Zealand.

Hopefully chick 4007001 will not fall victim to a fishing hook and will return in a few years to breed.

(This article was originally published in the November 2013 edition of the South Georgia Association Newsletter.)

First Sight – Will Life For Vagrant Ducks Be Rosy?

Five rosy-billed pochard were seen flying over Salisbury Plain.
Five rosy-billed pochard were seen flying over Salisbury Plain.

A group of five rosy-billed pochard were seen by a cruise ship passenger when the ducks were flying above Salisbury Plain in mid-November.

The rosy-billed pochard has not been recorded as being sighted at South Georgia before. These striking ducks are usually resident in the southern region of South America, living on freshwater lakes and ponds where they dive to feed. The males are largely black with grey undersides, have a red eye, and their bill has a bright crimson knob at the base, fading along the bill to a pale pink - hence the common name of rosy-bill. In flight the white edge on the wings is pronounced. The females are less obvious being duller, browner, and generally nondescript. The group seen were made up of three males and two females, which means that if the birds can survive the harsh climate here, and find enough food, they could attempt to breed…so who knows, maybe South Georgia will have its own population of this striking duck in years ahead.

A group of speckled teal seen in KE Cove.
A group of speckled teal seen in KE Cove.

There is an example of a vagrant species managing to breed and remain here long term in the small population of speckled teal that have been resident in the Grytviken area for many years. Their numbers have been recorded in recent years as high as 14, but this year only eight have been recorded. They probably breed locally somewhere but their nests have never been found. They are also known to have interbred with the endemic (only found in South Georgia) South Georgia pintail ducks.

Anthony Smith - Artist in Residence At The SG Museum

Anthony Smith in his studio.
Anthony Smith in his studio.

Sculptor Anthony Smith has taken up a two-month post as Artist in Residence at the South Georgia Museum. He travelled down to the island shortly after the public unveiling of a major commission for the Natural History Museum (NHM), London; a seven-foot tall bronze of Alfred Russel Wallace which was the first new statue commissioned for the NHM in more than 80 years.

With a background in natural history Anthony found himself drawn to the wildlife hotspot that is South Georgia. He studied zoology at Cambridge University, and as a student pursued his interest in sculpture in his spare time, learning the traditional nineteenth-century sculpting techniques and the process of bronze casting. He began exhibiting wildlife sculptures aged 18 and soon also developed an interest in human figure sculpture.

Other major commissions include: a life-sized bronze statue of the young Charles Darwin which was unveiled in Cambridge by HRH Prince Philip on the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth, and subsequently short-listed for the Marsh Award for Best Public Sculpture of the Year; and an appointment to the Royal Mint to design a new £2 coin.

Anthony has already spent time in the Southern Ocean area. In 2009-2010 he spent eight months as ship’s artist and photographer on board the tall ship Stad Amsterdam as it followed the course of Darwin’s famous voyage in the Beagle and in 2012 he spent time as Artist in Residence in the Falkland Islands on a Shackleton Scholarship.

He has brought two bronze sculptures of albatross with him to the island. One will be sold in the museum shop, with part of the proceeds supporting the Habitat Restoration project, and he has donated the other to the same cause for a sealed bid auction. To find out more about this beautiful limited edition sculpture and the auction click here. You can send a bid to here

Anthony said, “I have been fascinated by the history and wildlife of South Georgia for many years and I am very excited to assist with the fund-raising campaign for the rat eradication project, which will have a great, positive impact on the future of the island. I will be assisting at the Museum and working on various art projects, as well as taking advantage of the fantastic photographic opportunities on the island. I can't wait!”

You can see more of Anthony Smiths art at the websites:

Anthony Smith’s albatross sculpture which is being auctioned by sealed bid until March 2014.
Anthony Smith’s albatross sculpture which is being auctioned by sealed bid until March 2014.

Adventure Comes From Uncertainty On The Shackleton Traverse

By Skip Novak

After having completed four Shackleton Traverses from King Haakon Bay to Stromness since 2006, looking back after the current failure, I have to admit in being perversely satisfied at the result. The island certainly lived up to its reputation for unpredictable weather conditions with big dumps of precipitation and savage winds. It is not a given that any party will successfully complete the route, and of course if it was, we probably wouldn’t have attempted it in the first place. Such is the attraction of uncertainty which always must be a feature of a true adventure.

Our eclectic traverse team of sailing friends: Cam Lewis; Gretchen Scott; Larry Rosenfeld; and Amy Drinker, all from the USA, were joined by sailor/alpinist Giorgio Bertone from Genoa and I co-led the party with the British mountaineers Julian Attwood and Ed Douglas.

A cracking downwind sail from Stanley, twin headsails ‘poled out’ all the way, brought us directly into King Haakon Bay on October 18th. We anchored close to the Vincent Islands which give little shelter in anything except relatively settled conditions. The strong westerly winds and rain, sleet, and then snow persisted for the next four days delaying the start of the traverse. Starting out soaking wet with no visibility is not an option; you need reasonable conditions and visibility at least to get safely established on the expanse of the Murray Glacier.

Skinning up on skis from King Haakon Bay. Photo Skip Novak.
Skinning up on skis from King Haakon Bay. Photo Skip Novak.

In spite of the weather we cached the skis, pulks and camping gear at the snow line near the ice of the Shackleton Gap, then, early on October 22nd, we made a break for it in windy but clear conditions that brought new snow down to the waterline. All went well on day 1 (except when I slipped on my skis on ice and was fetched up by Gretchen 2nd on the rope, thanks!) and, after continuing on across the Murray in thick weather and coming on to snow as the wind swung back into the west, we eventually camped just below the Trident Ridge after groping around somewhat finding the correct windscoop.

So far so good, but that night it continued to snow and blow reasonably strong from the west, which would make the downside of the Trident a wind slab avalanche risk. To safely descend the Trident with a mixed group requires a long process of lowering off the pulks, 180 meters at a time, digging out ledges, and bringing everyone down the rope on a prussik because of crevasses on the slope. This then needs repeating three times to reach the flat on the Crean Glacier. Given the conditions and the time this would take on a risky slope, we made the decision to descend back onto the Murray and call in support yacht Pelagic Australis for a pick-up in Possession Bay. During a camp above the east arm of Assistance Bay we experienced a hard night of very strong katabatic winds that threatened to burst the tents; most of us had little sleep. Despite easing slightly by morning, the weather kept us tent-bound the following day though it slacked off enough to allow a relatively quiet night.

By this time Pelagic Australis had motored around the northwest tip of the Island and was at anchor in Cook Bay near Prince Olav whaling station. After a visual recce of a possible descent route by the sailing crew, albeit in poor visibility, we left the campsite at 10am, having seen another party from the French yacht Le Sourire climbing up to an extension of the Trident well north of the classic Shackleton descent into the Crean. They had started from the western arm of Assistance Bay and this was their second attempt at the traverse, having had the same miserable weather we had sailed in on. Maybe they knew something we didn’t? They disappeared in the mist as we descended a snow ramp down to the eastern arm of Assistance Bay to the waiting dingy; which for future reference is not a desired exit as it was threatened in the final part from ice cliffs above. Better to have gone around Glacier Point and down to the western arm of Assistance Bay. Knowledge is power!!

Happily back on board, we spent a windy night in Cook Bay, and then scuttled off to Fortuna to attempt a day outing to ski up the Fortuna from Anchorage Bay, go up and over the Breakwind Gap and on around to Stromness. At Fortuna we watched the skiers from Le Sourire descend into Anchorage Bay, having spent a windy few nights on the Crean. Next day we skied back up part of their route to gain the Fortuna Glacier, with fine views of Mt Stanley and the Great Nunatak that was the steering beacon for Shackleton, Worsley and Crean when they crossed from the Trident. We skied up to, and cramponed over, the Breakwind Gap in zero vis, which later cleared with less than skiable snow conditions further down the gully. Snow patches on the grassy lower slopes happily linked together which brought us right down on our skis to the beach at Whistle Cove.

I missed not having the time to camp on the shingle beach at Fortuna Bay, able to revel in a bit of greenery, as we normally do after days up high. Instead the boat came around and took our climbing gear so we could walk in rubber boots, carrying skis and ski boots, across the outwash plain of the Konig Glacier, then skin up to the col and ski down to the braided river that empties into Stromness Bay. Shackleton Route – 3/4’s done!

Church Centenary - Christmas Memories

This whalers’ homemade Christmas tree in the Grytviken church seems to be made from metal pipe and local vegetation.
This whalers’ homemade Christmas tree in the Grytviken church seems to be made from metal pipe and local vegetation.

The local community and visitors will celebrate the centenary of the church at Grytviken in December. The church was the first in the Antarctic region. The project to construct a church was conceived by the Grytviken whaling station founder Carl Anton Larsen. The church was funded through public conscription and a large donation from Larsen who also bought the two bells. It was designed by his son in law, Adalbert Kielland, prefabricated by Strømmen Traevarefabrik in Norway, then flat-packed and transported to the island. Construction was done by the whalers in their spare time and was started on November 25th. Just a month later it was ready to be consecrated on December 24th 1913. One hundred years later a group of 140 ex-whalers and their families and others belonging to the Norwegian organisation Øyas Venner will come on the cruise ship Fram especially to mark the church centenary. This newsletter will cover all the celebratory events next month, but here we share some earlier memories of Christmas time in the church, at Grytviken, and King Edward Point…

The cover of Beverly McLeod’s coming book of childhood memories of life at KEP.
The cover of Beverly McLeod’s coming book of childhood memories of life at KEP.

In 1957 Beverly McLeod was a six-year old living with her family at the government settlement at KEP; she has recently written a book of her childhood memories of living in South Georgia called “In the Shadow of Shackleton’s Cross”, it will be published in March 2014. In it she remembers Christmas in Grytviken church:-

“On every Christmas Eve the two steeple bells were rung. As a group, all of us from The Point walked to Pesca to join the whalers for a service inside the church. It was a glorious evening, chilly but clear, with a shy moon peeping over the mountain tops. We joined the Norwegians from the station as they walked together in large numbers, following the path to the little white church. Silver light reflected off the cross which crowned the pointed green roof of the steeple and the bells rang in a slightly discordant harmony. The five-minute peal of the church bells reverberated around the mountains and carried us into the building on its wings. We were shown to reserved seats near the front. A sparsely decorated Christmas tree stood to the left of the altar, trying valiantly to lend the little church a festive air. The church had been built to seat two hundred people and it was filled above capacity. Men stood in the aisle and pressed up against the walls. Our combined body heat made the airless room difficult to breathe in and I began to feel quite light-headed. I held tightly to Mum’s hand and was about to ask her to take me outside when the Manager walked to the front of the church and the service began. I had missed the moment when I could reasonably leave the church without causing a scene, so I breathed deeply and tried to concentrate on what was happening to keep myself from fainting. The organist played ‘Kyrie Eleison’ and I listened intently to the music then hung on to every nuance of the address although I didn’t understand one word of what was being said. Just being a part of a community which had come together on this one special day of the year to celebrate Christmas, was magical. I soon forgot my queasiness and was carried along by the emotion of the event. We opened our throats and our hearts and sang each carol loudly in English, competing with the Norwegians who sang them in their own language. Then Mr Butler stood in front of the altar and spoke to us about the message of Christmas. As we walked back home to The Point together after the service sleeping elephant seals, awakened by our approach, raised their heads, their huge brown eyes shedding tears of annoyance that we should so rudely disturb their seasonal slumbers.”

Jenny Bonner saved this Christmas Service programme from 1959.
Jenny Bonner saved this Christmas Service programme from 1959.

Nigel and Jenny Bonner also lived at KEP around the same time where Nigel was the government sealing inspector. Here Jenny describes her Christmas memories:-

'The whale boats came in on the afternoon of December 24th and at 3.30 work stopped on the station. Half an hour later the two bells in the church tower started to ring and soon every pew was filled, the station chemist played a voluntary on the miniature organ and the service began. Norwegians decorate with lights and flags, and the Christmas tree had small Norwegian, English and Argentinian flags on it. Norwegian carols alternated with readings of the Christmas gospel in Norwegian, English and Spanish. The Manager of the whaling station gave a short address (which always included an exhortation to work harder and catch more whales). The lights of the Christmas tree were reflected in the varnished pine walls of the church and glinted dully on the bronze tributes that had been laid on Shackleton's grave forty years before. As we filed out wishing each other 'God Jul' the fact that it was mid-summer rarely stopped us having a white Christmas.”

In a letters home, written at Christmas between1958 and 1960, Nigel's described more of their Christmas festivities:-

“We are having an albatross chick as a substitute for turkey and we spent the last two evenings icing the cake and preparing this impossible bird. Naturally our oven is not designed for things of this scale so I have had to trim the bird a bit. Now we are faced with the problem of stuffing the gaping cavity inside. Leith has sent us a bag of nuts and a huge ham - more than a ham really - it is a hind quarter and weighs about 30lbs.”

In 1960 the Christmas eve carol service was postponed two hours because there were still whales on the plan needing processing. Christmas Day was a very social time with lots of people calling to visit the couple and their son; many bringing Christmas gifts: a little woollen donkey; marzipan sweets; a reindeer candle stick made form welding rods; a whale carved from a sperm tooth and a Tonsberg souvenir ashtray.

Bird Island Diary

By Adam Bradley, Base Commander at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

Spring is in the air on Bird Island. Seal puppies are appearing at an ever-increasing rate, the penguins and albatrosses are jealously guarding their eggs and the intrepid humans who over-wintered here get their first visitors for many months. Arriving at Bird Island for the first time is a memorable experience, so, as one of the newcomers, here are my first impressions.

Getting to Bird Island is a bit of a mission: after 20 hours on a plane from the UK to the Falklands, an hour on a bus across to Port Stanley and 3 days on board the RRS James Clark Ross, we awoke on the fourth morning to get our first glimpse of Bird Island through the cabin window. As we headed out to the deck to get a better view, the tell-tale whiff of fur-seals already carried to us on the wind, a distinctive ammonia scent that was soon to become part of our daily lives.

The JCR’s small cargo tender ferried us the short distance to the base’s jetty, where the four wintering residents (the three zoological field-assistants and the base technician) greeted us warmly. This was a significant moment for them – as their first visitors for nearly 8 months our arrival signalled the end of their lonely winter in this remote outpost. Happily, they were in excellent spirits and gave us a hearty welcome. Possibly this was also due to the large amount of fresh food that accompanied us, heralding a much-needed change from the frozen and dried food that had sustained them for the latter part of winter.

The rest of the day passed in a whirlwind. As well as delivering five newcomers, the JCR also carried the food, fuel, domestic goods, science equipment, spares and everything else needed to sustain the base for the next year. The schedule only allowed us the briefest of introductions, a quick tour of the base, and a hasty cup of tea before the tender arrived back at the jetty for the next round of cargo to be unloaded. As we puffed our way up to the base with heavy crates, drums and packages, our physical efforts were observed by fur-seals, gentoo penguins, skuas, snowy sheathbills and many others, all curious about the unaccustomed level of hustle and bustle on their beach.

Waiting at the jetty to receive cargo.
Waiting at the jetty to receive cargo.

It took us a full three days to transfer all of the cargo, after which we waved farewell to the JCR passengers and crew and spent the next week settling into the daily routine of life on the island. All of the base members help out with the science when needed, so it was no surprise that, shortly after our arrival, I was recruited by Steph and Jess, our albatross scientists, to assist in the 10-yearly census of black-browed albatrosses. This was a mammoth job that required every one of these beautiful birds on the island to be counted individually – over 6,500 of them in total. We were also treated to the rare sight of a couple of the braver wandering albatross chicks fledging; with the less ambitious ones busy stretching their wings in the wind in preparation for the big day.

These trips out also let me sneak a glimpse of Big Mac and Middle Mac, the two largest penguin colonies on the island. It is a startling sight when you round a corner to see 80,000 macaroni penguins strewn across a hillside, creating a wave of noise and smell that can knock you sideways.

On the beaches closer to home occasionally, if you’re lucky, you can see a tiny grey, fluffy gentoo penguin chick peeking out from beneath its mother, perched on her uncomfortable-looking nest of rocks. There is always a risk that other adult birds will sneak in and try to steal choice rocks for their own nests, so everybody has to be constantly on their guard.

The living accommodation at Bird Island is lovely – cosy, well-designed and spacious, but its real selling-point is the vista it gives over Freshwater Beach, and our noisy, grunty, smelly neighbours who reside there. At this time of year the beach is predominantly covered in adult male fur-seals; big, solid looking chaps who are busy trying to stake out their few square metres of territory to impress the females as they come ashore. Already, some of the local females have produced pups, but this is just the start; the floodgates will really open in December. Hannah and Cian have their work cut out counting new pups; weighing and measuring them and monitoring the numbers of adults coming ashore to breed. They sometimes find it difficult to tear themselves away from watching one particular pup, a cute but belligerent youngster who spends his days chewing everything in sight, including his long-suffering mothers’ flippers.

November is also the traditional month for the base members to bleach their hair, an act of sympathy for the fur-seals on the seal-study beach who get marked with hair-dye in order to track and identify them! There’s no doubt that we could all be easily tracked now...

This is a fascinating time of year to arrive at the island - there is life everywhere. I look forward to seeing what else a summer at Bird Island brings!

A new arrival on the busy seal breeding beach.
A new arrival on the busy seal breeding beach.

South Georgia Snippets

Church greetings: In greetings sent to Sandefjord Church, Norway, the Rev. Dr. Richard Hines, incumbent at Christ Church Cathedral, Stanley, FI, said: “We will remember you in our prayers on Sunday November 17th as you commemorate and give thanks for the courageous Norwegian whalers who lived, worked, suffered and died in the South Atlantic waters - especially around South Georgia Island. It is a particular joy to send our message to you this year knowing that quite soon we will have the added pleasure of welcoming members of Øyas Venner (Friends of the Island) to the Falkland Islands and to a short service in our Cathedral Church. Not only that, but my wife and I shall then have the marvellous privilege of travelling together to South Georgia at Christmas time to celebrate the centenary of the Norwegian Church in Grytviken. At this time of celebration and thanksgiving may God bless and keep us all in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Tourism scholarship: The cruise ship company Polar Latitudes has advertised Scholarships in Expedition Cruising for candidates between the ages of 18-29 with “personal achievement and interest in Antarctica.” The scholarships will be based in the Falkland Islands but in November 2014 they will travel to Antarctica, South Georgia, Ushuaia, and Punta Arenas where they will be given on-the-job training and supervision in: expedition cruising related skills; environmental protocols; safety training; itinerary planning; hospitality etc. Those interested in applying should do so before February 7th 2014 to Samantha Marsh, Sulivan Shipping Services, Davis Street, Stanley, email:

The winning applicant will be announced in March.

Dates For Your Diary

Peaks near Cape Disappointment by Rowan Huntley.
Peaks near Cape Disappointment by Rowan Huntley.

A current exhibition of landscape paintings by Rowan Huntley includes South Georgia landscapes. The ‘Alpine & Polar: Mountain & Ice’ exhibition will be held between November 12th and January 10th at the Sugar Store Gallery in The Brewery, Kendal, UK.

Rowan Huntley, who has a passion for painting snowy, mountain landscapes and glaciers, has travelled twice to Antarctica. The trials of ‘extreme painting’ in mountain areas, on moving ships, in bitter temperatures and with ferocious winds were balanced by pure enjoyment: the enjoyment of painting in such incredible places, experiencing eternal daylight, the serenity of the midnight sun and acres of phenomenal, breath-taking ice. Magnificent peaks and tumbling glaciers feature in this show which has free admission.

For opening times contact the Box Office 01539 725133

Further details at

Remember being told not to throw sand? It should apply to elephant seals, who throw damp
sand over their backs to cool off too!

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