South Georgia Newsletter, September 2008

From South Georgia Website

Jump to: navigation, search

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

- To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

- Archive of previous newsletters here.

Cruise Ship Visits Continue To Rise

Following on from last years record breaking year, there will once again be an increase in the number of cruise ship visits to the Island.

Around 76 cruise ships will visit this summer compared to 64 in the 2007-8 season, an increase of 19%. With a cap now set at 500 for the maximum number of passengers per ship, just one larger ship, the 800-passenger “Prinsendam” will visit this year. This ship had booked before the introduction of the new limit. Despite the increase in the number of ship visits, the number of passengers is only predicted to rise 8% to about 8,700.

The first cruise ship “National Geographic Endeavour” will arrive on October 23rd. Twenty yachts have booked to visit; many of these come early in the season, with ten expected in October. Two yachts have already arrived in September heralding an early start to another busy tourist season.

Oiled Penguins

About 1% of the King Penguins at St Andrews Bay had oil on them.
About 1% of the King Penguins at St Andrews Bay had oil on them.

At the end of August large numbers of oiled penguins were seen on South Georgia, and 7% of the Gentoo Penguins at Maiviken were found to be oiled, some very badly.

Oiled penguins were coming up on the beaches at King Edward Point (KEP) and Bird Island (BI) (seen in these locations as they are the only two inhabited areas of the Island). (See last month’s newsletter).

In an attempt to investigate the extent of the problem, in early September three sorties were made by boat and ship to penguin colonies and roosts up and down the northeast coast.

On September 2nd the small boats from KEP were used to visit the vast King Penguin colony at St Andrews Bay. Around 1% of birds there were oiled. More oiled Gentoo Penguins were seen on the beaches in the bays returning north. Further checks were made in the Stromness Bay area on September 8th where only a few oiled birds were seen.

On September 11th and 12th the Fishery Patrol Vessel “Pharos SG” was used to visit the King Penguin colonies and Gentoo roosts at Fortuna Bay and the Bay of Isles. No oiled birds were seen. The last oiled penguin was seen on September 22nd.

The source of the oil affecting the penguins is believed to have been offshore; no inshore birds such as Seagulls, Shags or Terns have been seen oiled.

With the exception of a known and persistent small oil leak from a sunken whale catcher at Leith harbour, no oil was seen inshore.

Oil samples were collected from the feathers of affected birds and the wreck at Leith and have been sent for analysis.

Visits were made to St Andrews Bay, Fortuna Bay, Bay of Isles and the old whaling stations in Stromness Bay to assess the oiled penguin problem. Flash required for video.

SGHT Discovery Event In Dundee

South Georgia Heritage Trust held it's first UK event at Discovery Point, Dundee on 30th September 2008, in the presence of the Patron of SGHT, The Princess Royal.

The Princess Royal also viewed the Centenary of Letters Patent exhibition at Discovery Point - see the report below.

The Princess Royal joined an audience of 80 members of the public, friends and sponsors to watch actor Aidan Dooley's enthralling one-man play "Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer".

A full report can be viewed on the SGHT website here.

Princess Royal Visits The South Georgia Letters Patent Exhibition

HRH The Princess Royal visited the Centenary of Letters Patent exhibition at Discovery Point, Dundee on September 30th. South Georgia Historian Bob Burton, who wrote the report below, was there to greet her and explain the exhibition.

‘The South Georgia Association is exhibiting a small display to mark the centenary of the Letters Patent that established British government on South Georgia. The display was funded by the SGA and the South Georgia Government and created by the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI). The display, which opened at the SPRI in July, has now moved to the Discovery Centre at Dundee where the achievements of the South Georgia government were described to HRH The Princess Royal when she visited the Discovery Centre on September 30th in her capacity as Patron of the South Georgia Heritage Trust.

South Georgia has benefited from 100 years of continuity of government. Apart from a few weeks in 1982, there has always been a resident magistrate at King Edward Point. The South Georgia Government is probably unique is its emphasis on promoting sustainable exploitation of natural resources. This started with whaling and elephant sealing. Both proceeded under licensing systems based where possible on scientific research, but control of whaling was lost when the industry became pelagic. Currently, the government is very effectively regulating the fishing industry within the 200 nautical mile Maritime Zone.’

The Letters Patent Exhibition will be at Discovery Point until November 16th after which it moves to the Maritime Historical Studies Centre, Hull from November 21st to December 24th.

HRH The Princess Royal with Bob Burton
HRH The Princess Royal with Bob Burton

Flag Lowered For Betty Biggs

The flag at King Edward Point was flown at half-mast and the church bells were rung as a mark of respect for Betty Biggs. The tributes were made on September 24th, the day of Betty’s funeral in Stanley, Falkland Islands. Betty, who died on September 17th, was a former resident and Post Mistress of South Georgia and brought up her young family here.

We hope to post a full obituary on this website in due course.

Belinda Blew Her Top For Six Years

Aerial photograph of Montagu Island showing the result of the six year eruption.
Aerial photograph of Montagu Island showing the result of the six year eruption.

An update on the eruption of Mount Belinda by John Smellie (British Antarctic Survey (BAS)) and Matt Patrick (USGS-Hawaiian Volcano Observatory).

The eruption of remote Mount Belinda, on Montagu Island (South Sandwich Islands) has ceased. There have been no satellite-generated thermal alerts over the volcano since September 2007 and a cloud-free ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) thermal image from July 19th 2008, confirms the absence of high temperatures at the summit of Mount Belinda. The eruption was the first recorded historical activity at the volcano. It began in October 2001 and lasted almost six years. The activity was characterized by persistent low-level ash emission from the summit of Mount Belinda, an intra-caldera volcanic cone, and produced at least three lava flows which cut into the island’s ice cover. The largest lava flow, formed in September 2005, travelled 3.5 km to reach the sea and created a 500 m-wide delta that still remains on the north shore. “HMS Endurance” will visit the island during the 2008-09 season in a final attempt to obtain photographs of the impact of the eruption on the island’s ice cap.

Fishing And Shipping News

The main fishing season ended in mid September.

The last remaining toothfish vessel completed its Total Allocated Catch (TAC) and finished fishing on September 13th. The two remaining Krill trawlers had also stopped fishing by the same date. Two Icefish trawlers are due to return to the South Georgia Fishing Zone early in October to resume fishing for Icefish.

The first yacht of the summer season arrived very early at the Island. Yacht “Golden Fleece” is on charter to the BBC and has dropped two two-man film crews off, one at Bird Island and one at St Andrews Bay, to film for the next big BBC Wildlife series ‘Frozen Planet’. The new eight-part documentary is scheduled for broadcasting in 2012 and is being billed as “the ultimate and most comprehensive portrait of the polar regions to date”.

“Tevakenui” entering King Edward Cove.
“Tevakenui” entering King Edward Cove.

The second yacht of the season “Tevakenui” arrived at King Edward Cove on September 27th with a family of three aboard who intend exploring the coast of the island for the next four months.

Beaver Island Reindeer Thriving

Reindeer introduced to Beaver Island in the Falklands from South Georgia are thriving. Numbers have built up such that it is expected they will need to be culled annually.

Jerome Poncet introduced 31 young Reindeer captured in South Georgia to Beaver Island in two translocations in 2002 and 2003. They immediately started breeding successfully with 100% breeding success in the first two breeding seasons.

Beaver is a large island with only a few sheep and so is well suited to the needs of the Reindeer. The deer, which have the run of the whole island, graze very selectively and cover a lot of ground. No accurate count has been possible in recent years as the herd has split into a ‘mainflock’ of females, juveniles and a couple of dominant stags, and a couple of small bachelor herds. The ‘mainflock’ though was 107 strong at the end of winter and around 40 new fawns were expected to be born in November, so the decision was made to start culling the herd. Thirty animals were taken in two culls this month and the cull is expected to become an annual event.

(Info Penguin News)

The Reindeer on Beaver Island, FI, are thriving. Photo Sally Poncet
The Reindeer on Beaver Island, FI, are thriving. Photo Sally Poncet

Bird Island News

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

While the snow has been melting a lot this month, Bird Island also lost another essential element of the winter; it’s tranquillity….interrupted by the visit of the first boat of the summer. After a little more than four and half months on our own, we all went out to watch the “Golden Fleece” appearing as a mirage on the horizon and sailing towards us. What excitement!!

Us watching the “Golden Fleece” anchored in Main Bay.
Us watching the “Golden Fleece” anchored in Main Bay.

She’s been chartered by the BBC, who are going to film new sequences for a new series about the Poles. For one evening we trebled the BI population with 12 people around the table for dinner. Matt and Mark are staying with us for a months to film Wandering Albatrosses.

Two weeks later the “Pharos SG” dropped off Jaume and Glenn who are spending the summer (or part of it) on the island working respectively on seals and bird physiology.

So in just two weeks our winter life had changed, what’s happened to the bridge and other games we used to play for cakes?? It doesn’t mean we’ve stopped eating cakes… At the same time on the meadows, the winter tranquillity has also faded. The wandering chicks, which Derren had ringed at the beginning of the month, have seen Northern Giant Petrels building their nests and laying their eggs. The number of Skuas has been constantly increasing since the first one returned on the 9th; also coming back from their winter at sea, White-chinned and Blue Petrels are returning to their burrows.

Northern Giant Petrel female laying its egg under the watchful eye of the male.
Northern Giant Petrel female laying its egg under the watchful eye of the male.

But the most anticipated birds were probably the mollymawks. The first Grey-headed Albatross was seen on the 11th; and quickly the colony has been filled by males strengthening or building nests before Mrs comes back home. Now the Black-browed Albatrosses are slowly returning to their colonies too. At this time of year there is so much going on on our tiny island.

Grey-headed Albatross building it nest. Photos Gorfou
Grey-headed Albatross building it nest. Photos Gorfou

New SGHT Gifts Available

Several new gifts are now available to buy from SGHT (online).

A selection of signed prints by wildlife artist John Gale can now be purchased, with wonderful images of South Georgia’s birds and seals set against the backdrop of stunning scenery.

Also new are 6 packs of notelets and envelopes with sketches of king and macaroni penguins by Una Hurst, and sets of four postcards showing photos of South Georgia’s wildlife.

Listen to Hunter Johnson’s haunting orchestral Antarctica Suite on CD for only £10.00.

To browse the new gifts follow this link or go to and click the shop image. All profits go to projects to benefit South Georgia.

South Georgia Snippets

New arrivals, both animal and human herald the arrival of the summer season.

During September this seasonal change has been striking. Starting with good snow cover, the snow started peeling back as thaws set in early in the month. By the end of the month most of the beaches were clear of snow and ready for the arrival of the Elephant Seals.

A fairly ferocious fight between two large males on KEP beach on the 13th had us scratching our heads wondering what there was to fight over, maybe it was just the spring surge in testosterone. By later in the month the early pups had been born the other side of the Cove and it was an early start on the KEP beach too, with the first two pups born on September 30th.

The Elephant Seals have started pupping at KEP.
The Elephant Seals have started pupping at KEP.

The KEP residents are enjoying watching the first Elephant Seal pups being born at KEP, but a bull seal decides to interrupt the family scene… Flash required for video.

Another annual thaw occurred in the builders’ freezer container. The KEP Electrician had at last got the parts that enabled him to mend the main KEP freezer which had been broken most of the winter. It was just as well since the night watchman found that the freezer container of food left by the building team was defrosting. Four unlucky folks spent the early hours unstuffing the broken freezer and cramming what could be saved into ours. A lot of good things had defrosted though, so the crew of the “Pharos SG” were invited to help eat what we could at a barbeque.

The residents are enjoying the warmer weather. Those helping fish biologist Jenn Lawson sort through masses of Krill samples even set up outside to work on a table in the sun on the balcony.

Sorting Krill samples in the sun.
Sorting Krill samples in the sun.

The latest South Georgia stamp issue featuring Chinstrap Penguins is proving very popular with collectors. Sales will be further boosted by a long write up in the October edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly magazine. Advertised as “the UK’s number one stamp magazine” with a readership of more than 60,000, the magazine has a four-page article entitled “Penguins and Postage Stamps from the South Atlantic” which was inspired by the new Chinstrap stamps.

Also in the media, an advert for a plumber and electrician to work for BAS at Bird Island caught the imagination of the major papers in the UK. With headlines like “Daring plumber wanted (must like penguins and the cold)” the papers, including the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph, went recruiting with tales of life in the Antarctic and perhaps somewhat off-putting statements like the Independent’s “...with a lack of fresh fruit, darkness and a salary of just £22,340 per annum, the prospect of life in the Antarctic is daunting”. If however you are tempted to apply, too late, the closing date was September 21st.

Biologist Robin Snape arrives to start the new science programme.
Biologist Robin Snape arrives to start the new science programme.

Lucky for us there are those who know how amazing it is to live and work in such an extraordinary place. “Pharos SG” brought in the first of the summer staff, dropping two folks off at Bird Island before bringing biologist Robin Snape to KEP to start a new science programme. Since BAS returned to KEP in 2000, three scientists have concentrated their work on fish. From this summer the there will be two scientists, one continuing the fish work and another looking at higher predators. The work on penguins, seals and seabirds will form part of the general ecosystem monitoring, and the work will link in to management of the commercial fisheries. The new work will include monitoring the breeding success of the Gentoo Penguins at Maiviken, the Macaroni Penguins at Rookery Bay and Giant Petrels may be studied at another site. Maiviken has also been chosen as a suitable spot for work with Fur Seals. Robin, who spent two years working on BI, and used to write the BI news for this newsletter, is setting up the new science and will then train up his successor before leaving early next year.

Robin was lucky enough to get a short shore visit to BI en route to KEP for an emotional reunion with BI colleagues and friends. His early impressions of the main island are how much better the weather is compared to BI, and he says he feels at home here, perhaps it helps that Maiviken reminds him a lot of BI with its tussac and wildlife.

A four-person team from the Sea Mammal Research Unit was also dropped in at Husvik to resume work on the Elephant Seals there. They will be there for about a month and their work includes putting data loggers on Elephant Seals to collect information on their migration and feeding patterns and oceanographic data. Earlier results of this work show that Elephant Seals from different places in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic have different migration patterns. Those from South Georgia rarely enter Antarctic waters, instead they tend to remain in deep ocean in the region of the Circumpolar Current, whereas those on the sub-Antarctic island of Macquarie tend to head south to the region of the pelagic pack ice. For further results go to SEaOS website at

Map showing the different Elephant Seal migration patterns. SEaOS
Map showing the different Elephant Seal migration patterns. SEaOS

The increasing number of ships visiting the Island will have plenty of ice to deal with this season. “Pharos SG” encountered a huge 25 mile-long iceberg to the north of the northern tip of the Island, whilst in Cumberland Bay and off-shore there are a lot of smaller icebergs this year. The bergs are often sculpted by nature into exquisite forms.

It was an especial treat to encounter a small pod of Orcas, including a dolphin-sized youngster, amongst the ice when the boats returned from a trip to Stromness Bay.

A Orca pod with youngster, second left. Photo Rachel Hadden
A Orca pod with youngster, second left. Photo Rachel Hadden

The South Georgia Museum Curator Elsa Davidson recently visited the Whaling Museum at Sandefjord, Norway. The visit may pave the way for possible partnerships projects between the two museums in the future. You can read her report on the visit on the Museum website

Three of the prize winning South Georgia entries at the Falkland Island Craft Show. Photo Penguin News
Three of the prize winning South Georgia entries at the Falkland Island Craft Show. Photo Penguin News

Once again the talented KEPers did well at the Falkland Island Craft Fair in September. The five entries won two first and two second prizes between them.

Readers living in the UK could take part in a number of events coming up:

  • The Centenary of Letters Patent Exhibition is now open at Discovery Point, Dundee, until into November.
  • For those with more of a taste of Shackleton then you may have already read about a London restaurant serving up a meal based on what Shackleton and his men would have eaten during their polar exploits in 1909. The 6000 calorie four-course meal costs £75 at the Green Door Bar and Grill, and includes pork scratchings, hoosh, steak and icecream which, apart from the substitution of goose for penguin, is supposedly the same as Shackleton’s menu. Ten pounds from each meal will go towards supporting an attempt on the South Pole by descendants of Shackleton and his men 100 years on.

Winter breeding King Penguins. King Penguins breed every 18 months, so some chicks are raised through the winter. The winter has been relatively mild this winter and the chicks have thrived. Flash required for video.

View of the Month

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

To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

  • © Copyright GSGSSI 2013.