South Georgia Newsletter, October 2010

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

New Commissioner Takes Up Post

Nigel Haywood was sworn in as the new Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands on October 16th. The Commissioner, who is also the Governor of the Falkland Islands, arrived in Stanley, Falklands, aboard “HMS Clyde”.

The swearing-in ceremony was followed by a parade and a reception at Government House.

Commissioner Haywood has had a long career in the British diplomatic service, which he joined in 1983. This includes FCO, Ireland Desk Officer; Budapest, Second and later First Secretary; Desk Officer Israel and Lebanon; Deputy Consul-General in Johannesburg; Counsellor and Deputy Head of Delegation in Vienna; FCO Assistant Director Human Resources; 2003/08 Ambassador in Estonia and from 2008 to 2009 Consul General in Basra, Iraq. He spent four years at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst; and went to New College, Oxford and has an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation.

He is married to Mary Louise and has two sons, Christopher and Peter. One of his early duties was to swear in the new South Georgia Magistrate Robert Webster. Robert is the new Base Commander at King Edward Point on a one year term.

The new Commissioner Nigel Haywood (rt) swears in Robert Webster as the new South Georgia Magistrate. Photo Ruth Fraser.
The new Commissioner Nigel Haywood (rt) swears in Robert Webster as the new South Georgia Magistrate. Photo Ruth Fraser.

Icefish Fishery Certified

The South Georgia icefish fishery has been certified as a well managed sustainable fishery by the Marine Stewardship council (MSC). The MSC is the world's leading certification and ecolabelling program for sustainable seafood. The new icefish certification was enacted on October 22nd and covers icefish caught in the pelagic trawl fishery within the South Georgia Maritime Zone. The South Georgia toothfish fishery has been MSC certified since 2004.

Icefish is mainly found around the subantarctic and Antarctic islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and off the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula. The species is now exploited only at South Georgia and in the Heard Island and McDonald Island's fishery, and occasionally at Kerguelen.

In South Georgia, icefish spawn in winter in the fjords and shallower parts of the shelf. All commercial fishing activity is by pelagic trawl, and more than 12nm from the coast, to avoid overlap of the spawning and fishing areas. The trawl gear has to be unprotected to prevent fishing too close to the seafloor which may damage the seafloor and the benthos like corals and sponges that live there - unprotected nets dragged too close to the seafloor would become damaged, hence interaction with the seabed is actively avoided.

An icefish trawler in Cumberland Bay.
An icefish trawler in Cumberland Bay.

As part of certification of the fishery there is also commitment for the next four years to further research on the fishery and the icefish stock.

Alex Reid, owner of 'Seaview Ltd, Falkland Islands', the company that operates the certified fishery, says: “Icefish from South Georgia is a very special and protected product.

We hope that our certification will enable us to sell our product to a market that appreciates not only fine fish of a very distinct and special nature, but also a product which is sustainable and carefully conserved and managed in order to produce the balance between nature and man that we believe is required.”

Toby Middleton, UK Country Manager for the MSC said: “Although icefish is relatively unheard of in Europe at present, it is a well-known delicacy in Russia and parts of the far-east. I hope that the South Georgia fishery’s certification will – as the fishermen hope – help it to introduce this unusual fish to European palates”.

South Georgia icefish may not be in your local supermarket yet, but if you were lucky enough to find some you would find it has a firm white, un-oily flesh with a delicious subtle flavour.

You can find recipes for icefish and other MSC certified fish on the MSC website here.

You can read the original MSC press release here.

Info: MSC and Mercopress

Fishing and Shipping News

“Plancius” was the first tour ship of the season.
“Plancius” was the first tour ship of the season.

Three vessels fished in the SGMZ during October. One vessel potted for crab and two trawled for icefish. All three vessels had quit the fishery by the end of the month.

“HMS Clyde” was on patrol in the SGMZ in October (see report below).

The first cruise ship of the 2010/11 season visited Grytviken on October 26th. “Plancius” brought 93 passengers on a special early season cruise with an extended visit to South Georgia during which a small expedition group completed the Shackleton route (See snippets).

Four charter yachts visited the Island during October, including “Golden Fleece”, on charter to a Korean film crew, and “Pelagic Australis” with a group of tourists including several members of the South Georgia Association.

A charter yacht leaving King Edward Cove.
A charter yacht leaving King Edward Cove.

Choppers To Tackle Rats

Two helicopters have been chosen to be purchased by the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) for the rat eradication project.

Chief Pilot Peter Garden and Habitat Restoration Project Director Tony Martin have chosen two Bolkow 105 helicopters and say they are “just the job” for spreading the poison bait to kill the rats that invade most of the coastal areas of the Island.

The aircraft are twin-engined, which increases their safety. Alison Neil of SGHT said one of the helicopters was previously owned by shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who bought it as a present for his wife Jacquie, as she wasn't happy about flying to and from his yacht in a single-engine helicopter.

The helicopters will now need to be shipped to the Island ready for the start of the first phase of rat clearance in four months time.

What a Bolkow will look like flying above Grytviken. Photo mock-up SGHT
What a Bolkow will look like flying above Grytviken. Photo mock-up SGHT

Lessons Learnt At Macquarie

An attempted eradication of pests (including rats) from Macquarie Island last southern winter did not go well. Macquarie is the largest subantarctic island where this sort of eradication has been attempted so far. After three-and-a-half years of planning the first attempt of the $24.7 million Australian Dollar (£15 million) programme had to be abandoned, but now the team are preparing to try again next winter.

Officers at the organising 'Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service' explained some of the problems encountered. “Unfortunately the weather during most of June and early July was unsuitable for baiting, due to low cloud, high winds or a combination of both, with the result that there was not a single day in June where the weather permitted the operation of all four helicopters across the island for a full day.”

Project Manager Keith Springer explained: “With the weather that we had, the strategy employed was to work in areas below the escarpment and along the coast because the plateau simply had too much cloud on it.” With such restricted flying Keith Springer explained that, “the presence of a large king penguin colony and several wandering albatross chicks in the southern part of the island required careful management. Staff were on hand to remove pellets that fell within five metres of a wandering albatross chick, and these were placed in bait stations a couple of metres from the nest. Although the chicks were not expected to consume baits, this was a simple and effective way to remove any risk to this critically endangered species.”

Measures were also taken to monitor and mitigate impacts to the large king penguin colony at Lusitania Bay. Observers filmed the over-flights of the colony and were in radio contact with pilots to advise them if impacts became unacceptable. A higher bait spreading altitude of 500 feet was adopted within a kilometre of the penguin colony to reduce the degree of disturbance to penguins.

Weather conditions remained unsuitable for flying during July, with relentless strong winds and frequent low cloud. By mid-July the team had been on the island for more than six weeks and in that time had only been able to bait on four part-days, spreading only eight per cent of the bait required for the bait drops. It became apparent that the next six weeks would need to deliver exceptionally good weather to complete the baiting before the return of native wildlife and the onset of pest species breeding. This was sufficiently unlikely that they decided to withdraw the team and seek to return in 2011.

Asked why the eradication was attempted in the winter months Keith Springer explained it was for three reasons: natural food sources for pest species are less available/palatable, so pest animals are more likely to take the bait; pest species populations are at the lowest point in their annual cycle so there are fewer of them to kill and they are not breeding; and many of the native species have left the island for winter so the projects non-target impacts are lower. “For example,” he said “we operate out of a royal penguin colony at the south end of the island as it is the only suitable flat area for helicopter approaches and storing bait pods, but it is full of royal penguins in summer so we wouldn't be able to access it. In addition, the presence of dense colonies of royal, rockhopper and king penguins during the breeding season would increase non-target species impacts significantly. In winter the king penguin colonies are less densely packed, as I imagine would be the case on South Georgia.”

The project used a bait called 'Pestoff 20R'. Keith Springer said, “We had a degree of mortality of non-target species from the limited baiting we did get done - about 730 dead birds were found after coastal searches of the island - about half were kelp gulls and about a third were northern giant petrels. A small number of ducks were also recovered (about 16). Our efforts to safeguard king penguin colonies and wandering albatross were effective. King penguins were also filmed during helicopter over-flights and while there is obvious reaction this did not result in running or stampeding behaviour.”

A number of important lessons were learnt at Macquarie during the 2010 winter, and will enhance the planning for next year’s aerial baiting program. Some of the planned changes will be: to increase the team size; alter some procedural aspects; make some changes to bait application; and put additional effort put into searching for and removing dead animals to reduce the incidence of non-target species mortality.

The Macquarie Island eradication team hope to start earlier for the next attempt. They plan to be at the island by late April 2011 for the next attempt.

You can read the latest 'Macquarie Dispatch' here.

Helicopter and underslung bait bucket coming in to refill at Macquarie Island. Photo Macquarie Dispatch
Helicopter and underslung bait bucket coming in to refill at Macquarie Island. Photo Macquarie Dispatch

Penguins Stamps A Big Hit

A new set of four stamps featuring photographs of four species of penguins that breed on South Georgia was released on October 25th. All four are airmail postcard rate stamps and are proving very popular with tourists visiting the Island. The new stamp set also features a sheetlet of eight stamps (the four stamps repeated twice).

The photographs were all taken by people currently living and working on the Island.

South Georgia is located in a unique position; right in the path of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. This current is a continuous cold, oceanic flow, moving from west to east, around the Antarctic continent, driven by strong westerly winds. As it rounds the Antarctic Peninsula the current is channelled by the Drake Passage and Scotia Ridge (an oceanic mountain range linking the Antarctic Peninsula and Cape Horn), straight into South Georgia. Acting like a food conveyor belt, the current delivers cold, nutrient rich, water laden with Antarctic krill to the waters surrounding the Island. As a result South Georgia is teeming with marine life, including a total breeding population of over 6 million penguins!

Although most at home in the sea, penguins are still dependant on land for breeding and moulting. Out of the water they have a clumsier persona with a waddling gait due to their short legs, and often very full stomachs. Despite this, many species have to travel several kilometres inland, sometimes up steep hills and rugged terrain, to their colonies. In the colonies, penguins employ elaborate social behaviours during courtship, defence of their territories, and in order to distinguish their partners and chicks from a buzzing crowd of potentially many thousands of other individuals.

Four species of penguin regularly breed on South Georgia. The King penguin is the second largest of all penguins. A striking bird; with bright orange flashes around its head and beak, it truly deserves its regal name. King penguins are excellent divers reaching depths of up to 300m during their week-long foraging trips, hunting for fish and occasionally squid.

King penguins are an abundant species, with an estimated population of two million breeding pairs, thought to be increasing. South Georgia is an important breeding location for the king penguin, being home to nearly 25% of the world population. There are numerous king penguin colonies on South Georgia ranging in size from a few tens of pairs, to many thousands; St Andrews Bay is home to the largest colony exceeding 150,000 pairs, while at Salisbury Plain, the second largest colony, there are thought to be over 60,000 pairs.

Macaroni penguins have distinctive yellow tufts, and were named after the peculiar 'Macaroni coiffure' hairstyles of 18th century Dandies. Feeding predominantly on Antarctic krill, the macaronis spend their winters at sea, only returning to land in the spring to breed and later moult.

With an estimated 18 million individuals, the macaroni is the most abundant of all the penguins, although the population is thought to be in decline. South Georgia is home to the majority of the world's macaroni penguins, with a population of 2.5 million pairs, which is also declining. Highly gregarious, macaroni penguins form colonies of many thousands, often situated on South Georgia's most exposed reaches.

Chinstrap penguins are named after the characteristic black 'strap' that runs under their beaks. This species generally occupies the more southerly subantarctic islands; with the majority of the population, around 5 million pairs, breeding on the South Sandwich Islands. At the northern limit of their range, a small chinstrap population of approximately 12,000 pairs breeds on South Georgia. Here the only breeding colonies are in the Cooper Bay region, on the south eastern tip of the Island, but in autumn occasional moulting chinstraps can be seen on more northerly beaches.

Gentoo penguins are the third largest penguin species and also boast the largest tails of all. They are generalist predators, feeding on a mixture of crustaceans and fish. Gentoos are very dependent on land, returning to the beach each night. As a result they must forage coastally, rarely venturing more than 12 miles offshore, making them very vulnerable to local variations in food availability.

The gentoo is one of the least abundant Antarctic penguins, with only 300,000 pairs worldwide. South Georgia is home to the majority of the worlds gentoos; approximately one third of the global population. They are found in small colonies around the Island, nesting either on the beaches, or considerable distances inland in the tussac grass on elevated headlands and hilltops.

With no printed value on the stamps, this set is part of the Definitive stamp set and will remain in use for around five years. The current Airmail Postcard rate is 60p, so the set has a face value of £2.40 and the special mini sheet costs £4.80. The First Day Cover features a pair of king penguins and costs £3.30.

South Georgia stamps can be bought via the website where you can also read the press release for this issue in full.

Based on text by - Jonathan Ashburner (Zoological Field Assistant - British Antarctic Survey).

Phenomenally Fast “HMS Clyde”

Delayed departing the Falklands due to a mechanical problem, “HMS Clyde” made a very fast passage, they took just over two days to cover the 800 miles journey, and even managed to arrive early at the King Edward Point (KEP) jetty on October 20th. But the passage was not comfortable, with strong northerly winds hitting them beam-on and causing heavy rolling. One roll of 27° caused dinners and diners to fly one mealtime but was treated with typical stoical humour as everyone set to clear up the mess.

The vessel patrolled the SGMZ for a few days, giving the crew and a few lucky folks from KEP who were invited to join the ship, a chance to visit other sites on the Island.

The ship spent two nights alongside at KEP, enabling the embarked Infantry party to patrol the area, and the ships crew to enjoy leg-stretches ashore, visiting nearby wildlife sites and the whaling station and museum.

Also aboard was Flt Lt Sarah Waghorn from the Explosives Ordnance Disposal Regiment. She inspected several of the possible ordinance finds around the area, and checked the procedure in place to monitor, record and report such finds. She also looked at an old whaling harpoon, currently displayed in front of the museum, that was brought up from the sea bed, intact, by a fishing vessel some years ago. Having not detonated, it probably still contains explosives and a fuse but is not immediately dangerous, though will probably need demolishing in future. She was also able to survey a small quarry used by the builders to get rock for building works. Using a metal-detector she checked the area and found some remains of mortars, suggesting that it may have been a target area at some point. She also found the inert remains of a quite large rocket but nothing else, and advised the pit can now safely be used.

Locals accompanied some of the visitors on walks to Maiviken and an early climb up Mt Duse, starting off at 4am, to enjoy the sunrise from the top.

Nelson's famous victory at the 'Battle of Trafalgar' is usually celebrated on October 20th by commissioned officers of the Royal Navy by holding a Trafalgar Night dinner in the Officer's Mess. Four KEP locals were invited to join the officers in their celebration, which involved traditional speeches and songs. As usual the ship's visit was a social time for all, with reciprocal invites for more dinners, drinks, darts and penguin racing.

There was an impressive turnout for the freezing splash, a very quick swim from the slipway to the ship's side and then the dash up the track to squeeze all 18 participants in for a warming sauna.

A quick swim to the ship's side.
A quick swim to the ship's side.

The brave, or is it mad, folks from “HMS Clyde” take a chilly dip.

Overseas Territories Environmental Programme Fund Launched

An announcement has been made about the launch of the latest 'Overseas Territories Environmental Programme'. This is a joint fund - run by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development - which supports the implementation of Environment Charters and Environmental Management in the Overseas Territories.

This is the 8th year of the programme and Ralph Jones, Staff Officer at Government House, Falklands, said that South Georgia and Falkland Islands-based organisations could well be successful in obtaining funds from the programme to use on local projects.

In previous years, projects which have secured funding have included an Albatross and Petrel Conservation Programme, and Marine and Native Plant programmes.

The key themes for this year’s fund will include adaptation to climate change and the promotion of energy sustainability. Although many past projects have been large in scale and spread over a number of years, smaller-scale projects tackling specific issues will also be considered. The deadline for this year’s bids is November 26th and the fund is aimed at locally established groups, organisations or educational establishments.

Ralph Jones would be pleased to offer further advice and guidance, and encourages applications or enquiries from those who think they could benefit. He can be contacted at Government House, Falklands or e-mail: Ralph Jones

Info South Atlantic Islands News Team

The Fight Against The Tiny Invasion

It was bound to happen: a live earwig has reached South Georgia, but luckily systems that have been put in place here can realistically hope to prevent such insects establishing on the Island.

A large amount of the cargo delivered to the Island comes via Stanley, Falkland Islands, where the earwig is a relatively recently introduced pest that now infests houses and gardens in plague proportions. With no natural predators in the Falklands, their numbers quickly build up, and hundreds can be seen at times in only a square meter of ground. In August a dead earwig was found here in the Biosecurity Building. The building, constructed a couple of years ago and now used as a model for similar facilities in other places around the world, is specifically designed and built to contain any animals, insects, plants, seeds etc unwittingly bought to the Island in cargo.

This month a consignment of fresh fruit and vegetables being carefully checked in the Biosecurity Building was found to contain not only a live earwig but also three live woodlice and a live centipede and several more dead insects.

Luckily live insects arriving at the Island is a rarity thanks to vigilance by suppliers who are given guidance how to check and pack goods for delivery to South Georgia. The mini invaders who did get here this time were swiftly dealt with.

Tackling Bittercress

Kelvin Floyd has travelled a long way to advise GSGSSI on how to continue the battle against the invasive bittercress plant. The New Zealander's long previous experience tackling invasive plant species in some remote and inhospitable areas qualifies him to take a fresh look at the ongoing battle to contain the plant and ultimately eradicate it. It is currently known to grow in two areas, at KEP and below Brown Mountain. Kelvin will spend about six weeks here assessing the problem, trialling different herbicides and spraying to contain the plant. GSGSSI has asked him to come up with a plan to get rid of the invasive bittercress. He is also setting up a database to record all efforts made, which will make recording the work done so far and assessing the success of the spraying regime much easier. When he leaves he will write a report advising GSGSSI on what further steps they make take to tackle the problem, one he describes as “very doable”.

He has been working for twenty years in conservation, with many different organisations, on both plants and animals. He is currently employed by Te Ngahere Ltd of Auckland, NZ, a company specialising in ecological restoration.

It has been lucky that there was not a large accumulation of snow this past winter so the ground is already mostly snow-free, and his visit has also coincided with an unusually protracted period of calm weather allowing spraying most days. Whilst here he is conducting trials with five different herbicides - two knock-down herbicides and three pre-emergence ones that should prevent seeds already on the ground germinating. If successful the latter could really cut down the amount of time that needs to be spent spraying during the summer growing season, but disturbance in the sprayed areas by wildlife such as the fur seals may make this less effective than it would be if a complete undisturbed blanket of spray could be maintained.

So far Kelvin describes his work as “going well”; there is a lot less bittercress than he expected and the scale of the infested areas is not too daunting. He has worked successfully in much bigger and more difficult environments than here. For instance the volcanic island of Rangitoto in Auckland harbour, which is hard to walk on lava fields where they are tackling a dozen invasive plants all at once.

Attempts made to tackle the bittercress in previous years have been effective. The plant has been knocked back to a low incidence in some areas where it was well established before. He says this as a positive sign that the seed bank is becoming exhausted in those areas, something he thinks bodes well for overall success eradicating the plant. “The time the seed remains viable in the soil is the big unknown here”, he said. “That is the million dollar question. No one knows the answer, and as we don't know that, I can't say how long the spraying regime will need to be kept up, but to be successful there will need to be continued spraying until the seed bank is exhausted.”

Whilst here, he is also looking at the other invasive plants in the Grytviken area and starting control of them. He is not tackling the dandelion or mouse-eared chickweed, two invasive non-native plants which it is too late to hope to control, being too widespread and well established, but he is tackling other plants like the sheep sorrel and yarrow. He suggests that eventually it will also be necessary to look at tackling introduced plants in other areas of the Island.

Kelvin Floyd will write a report and make recommendations to GSGSSI on how to continue tackling the bittercress.

“This is a great place”, he said, “and you have to manage your environment. You can't just sit back and not worry about these things. If you have got invasives, you need to do maintenance. The work is not just to eradicate the bittercress but to ensure you are not introducing new plant species and to keep an eye out that nothing strange is going on.”

Kelvin Floyd spraying one of the main bittercress areas.
Kelvin Floyd spraying one of the main bittercress areas.

Museum: Parkas and Penguins

The Museum summer season started with the arrival of four staff on October 14th. Curatorial Assistant Lynsey Easton is making her first visit to the Island whilst Tony Hall returns as General Museum Manager having been an assistant last summer. Assistant Julia Hughes has visited the island before as a tourist, and Buyer/Museum Assistant Liz Adams is here for a few weeks to revamp the museum shop and put in accounting systems and to familiarise herself with the place and its visitors to aid her in her ongoing work buying for the shop. SGHT PR & Marketing Manager Ruth Fraser arrived a few days later.

The museum team in the shop.
The museum team in the shop.

Curatorial Assistant Lynsey Easton will be here for three months during which she will continue to document the collections and new acquisitions. Lyndsey's interest in polar history started when she visited the exhibition of Hurley's photographs in Edinburgh. She was studying 'Museum and Gallery Studies' at St Andrews University and was making a critical review of the exhibition. The Curatorial Assistant job was advertised to people on the course, and as she was by then working in marketing, she was keen to take the chance to use her degree. Offered the job, she had no second thoughts and is enjoying the experience, which she said has “exceeded her expectations”.

She is finding the work challenging but rewarding and says she has her work cut out, as there is a huge backlog of time-consuming work to be done just on the existing collection. New acquisitions she will curate include: a red USARP (United States Antarctic Research programme) parka worn by researcher Lance Tickell when he worked as one of the first biologists based on Bird Island between 1962-64; and a violin that was made in South Georgia. An inscription inside the instrument reads 'South Georgia 1924, Henry Panne'.

Sadly the cabin from the vessel “Quest”, in which Sir Ernest Shackleton died, is no longer expected to arrive this season.

She will also be making some changes to the social history section and will be developing the Blacksmiths section, including having more information about the famous blacksmith Einar Strand, a well respected and liked character who worked at Grytviken from 1920 to 1962.

Asked what her favourite object in the museum was, Lynsey said it was the penguin pelt in the 'touchy feely section'. She would like to touch a real penguin to see how its feathers feel, but of course you mustn't, but in this section of the museum visitors are encouraged to handle some objects like velvet covered antler and penguin wings. The king penguin pelt is “soft and cuddly” she said.

Curatorial Assistant Lynsey Easton with her favourite exhibit, the king penguin pelt.
Curatorial Assistant Lynsey Easton with her favourite exhibit, the king penguin pelt.

Bird Island News

By Mick Mackey, Seal Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Station, Bird Island.

October saw the continued return and establishment of summer breeders. In October the grey-headed albatross, black-browed albatross and white-chinned petrels return to Bird Island. We have also observed the welcome returns of the light-mantled sooty albatross and the macaroni penguins from their offshore winter foraging trips back to their Bird Island breeding colonies. Although not a visually dominant species on the Bird Island landscape, the light-mantled sooty albatross can certainly be an audibly dominant feature, with its screeching cries heard from all corners. Capturing an opportunistic glance of the unblemished, ashen plumage of this diminishing species and observing their elegant, synchronised flights are two of the highlights of spending time on Bird Island.

Light-mantled sooty albatross.
Light-mantled sooty albatross.

Another highlight for three of your senses is the sight, sound and smell of the Big Mac macaroni penguin colony in full swing. The steep, rocky slope that is home to over 80,000 of these colourful, cantankerous creatures was completely empty until the third week of October. The first sighting of the yellow crest that gave this stocky penguin its name, took place on October 17th. The males arrive at the colony first to establish an impressive nesting site, composed of stones, mud, feathers and bones, to attract the lucky ladies that are due to return by early November. By month’s-end, the endless din of cackling macaronis will be as constant as an albatross stare.

Macaroni penguin.
Macaroni penguin.

The beaches also had a face lift during October with the large territorial male Antarctic fur seals slowly dominating the coastal scene in place of the juvenile and sub-adult males that have been chasing me about the coast while I have been searching for the elusive leopard seals. As with the macaronis, the adult bulls return two to three weeks earlier than the females to establish breeding territories along the lengths of Bird Island’s beaches and rocky outcrops.

Male Antarctic fur seal.
Male Antarctic fur seal.

The male elephant seals have also been making their presence felt on the beaches, patiently waiting for female company. Their short summer Bird Island sojourns have been largely spent sleeping, with the odd act of territorial defence/offence being observed from our dining quarters. Although the occasional sighting of female elephant seals has been recorded, no pups have been observed to this point.

Male southern elephant seal (Photos Mick Mackey
Male southern elephant seal (Photos Mick Mackey

And finally, it was out with the old and in with the new as 'First Call' took place between October 30th and 31st – two weeks later than originally scheduled. The wintering staff have been busying themselves preparing the base for official start of summer by gathering the garbage and recyclables accumulated during the winter months for disposal and treatment in the Falklands and Cambridge. The base itself has also received a comprehensive spring-clean in anticipation of the arrival of our summer occupants and the newest long-term Bird Islanders: Ruth Brown will be trained by Stacey as the new Penguin/Giant Petrel Field Assistant and Paul Craske will be our Technical Services expert for the next twelve months. Paul is a Generator Mechanic by trade, which will certainly come in handy considering the arrival of two new generators for installation. Also arriving at 'First Call' were: our Summer Base Commander Fryckowska; BAS Seal Biologist, Jaume Forcada who will be working with Mick during the Fur Seal breeding season; and Sim Tang & Julia Schmale (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology). Sim & Julia will spend the next ten weeks investigating the influence of the marine environment and the local seabird and seal populations on atmospheric gas and particulate composition.

Along with the fresh faces, the Bird Island winterers also welcomed an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, a freezer-load of meat & cheese, 154 barrels of fuel and a new dishwasher. Unfortunately, our annual supply of toilet paper failed to make the trip – necessity is the mother of invention, so watch this space....

South Georgia Snippets

Work has started on the Little Villa at Grytviken.
Work has started on the Little Villa at Grytviken.

A team of four builders, lead by GSGSSI Buildings Supervisor David Peck, arrived on October 14th and will be working on the Island until mid-December. Their main project is to refurbish the Little Villa, alongside the old Manager's Villa, in Grytviken. They have stripped out the walls and ceilings and installed stairs to two bedrooms in the roof space. When finished there will be another bedroom downstairs with an en-suite shower and loo, a separate bathroom with a large utility room, and an open-plan kitchen-dining room/lounge. The Little Villa will be ready to accommodate the museum workers by the New Year. Other work includes reinstating the old stream bed after the stream behind the whaling station was diverted across the football pitch during heavy rains when a dam burst. There is also repair work needed on the track and to small bridges around the area.

The first cruise ship of the season “Plancius” dropped a group of eight expeditioners into King Haakon Bay to attempt the 'Shackleton Crossing'. The guided group, organised by 'Oceanwide Expeditions', were lucky with the weather and snow conditions. They started out later in the day on October 23rd and made camp at 300m, enjoying a beautiful sunset over King Haakon Bay. They skied on the next day and found the descent from the Trident was difficult and dangerous as it was proving prone to avalanche, so they had to be very careful, making for a slow descent. They had brilliant weather on the Crean Glacier, enjoying more splendid views before camping at a nunatak between the Crean and Fortuna Glaciers. On the last day, dropping down to Fortuna bay they found the gully to be blocked by a recent huge rockfall. Very large blocks of rock made it very tricky to come down, but once in the gully with their pulks they were committed to that route and had heavy work getting themselves and their gear safely past the hazard. They met the ship in Fortuna then continued on the last stage to Stromness in the company of others walkers from the ship. Participants also included Chris Short, John Mills, Mariot Trimeri, Gerhard Schuhmann, Mathilde Danzer and Florian Piper.

Guide Christoph Hőbenreich and participant Martina Six look happy to be in Grytviken after their adventures on the Shackleton Route.
Guide Christoph Hőbenreich and participant Martina Six look happy to be in Grytviken after their adventures on the Shackleton Route.

If the new BAS team arriving on the FPV Pharos SG look a little bemused....
If the new BAS team arriving on the FPV Pharos SG look a little bemused....

Seven new BAS employees arrived on the “FPV Pharos SG” on October 28th to begin their handovers with the outgoing crew from KEP. Only Matt, the Facilities Engineer, will be staying on for his second year. Most of the outgoing group will leave just before Christmas having completed their one and two year contracts.

Before the new people arrived there was the usual lather of cleaning - the annual spring-clean of the station buildings. Many also took the opportunity for a camping trip away to St Andrews Bay to enjoy the rich beach activity there in the height of the elephant seal breeding season. Three leopard seals were observed regularly hunting for penguins offshore and some amazing photos and video footage was taken by the keen photographers of the animals making a kill. is probably because this lot were waiting to welcome them. is probably because this lot were waiting to welcome them.

As usual two main harems formed at the elephant seal colony at KEP. About 150 female seals will pup here this year. Two of the bull seals had a huge bloody battle lasting fifteen minutes, in which one had much of his nose torn away. The victorious bull is still in charge of the bigger harem (the alpha bull) with the loser settling for a place as a beta bull on the western edge of the group of females and pups. He is now getting little rest as pesky sheathbills and the occasional skua peck at the bloody remnants of his huge nose whenever he lays his head down.

The bull elephant seals had a long bloody battle.
The bull elephant seals had a long bloody battle.

Two bull elephant seals had a huge battle over the KEP harem. This footage is not for the faint hearted.

Dates for your diary:

An exhibition entitled “Endurance: Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure” is currently underway at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool. It will run until January 3rd 2011, and includes photographer Frank Hurley’s rare Paget colour transparencies, owned by the State Library of New South Wales, Australia. The exhibition is open from 10am – 5pm. Admission free.

For more information click here to go to the the Merseyside Museum website.

The last photo:

King penguin chick. Photo Richy Inman.
King penguin chick. Photo Richy Inman.

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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