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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter, July 2006

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Fishing News

Stormy wintry weather made it a rough month for the eight longliners and one krill trawler fishing in the South Georgia Maritime Zone.

One more toothfish longliner completed its Total Allocated Catch and left the fishery. This year we are hoping that MSC-certified toothfish will shortly be on sale for the first time, giving purchasers the confidence that it was caught in a sustainable fishery. Watch this website for more details.

NOAA ice chart


No other krill trawlers have arrived, despite continued good catches by the lone trawler. The NOAA ice chart shows the reason why: the sea just north of the Antarctic Peninsula, a favourite krill fishing ground, is still remarkably ice free, allowing other krill trawlers to continue fishing much further south than is usual for this time of year.


NOAA ice chart showing the area north of the Antarctic Peninsula, where other krill vessels are fishing, clear of ice despite the well advanced winter months.

Krill transhipments were made twice during the month. One longliner came in and alongside at KEP for a medical emergency.

At the end of the month the Fishery Patrol Vessel “Sigma” came alongside in a storm, her sides, decks and railings thick with ice. The ice was later knocked off and they estimated they removed about 15 tons of ice.



  The decks and side of “Sigma” were covered in thick ice. Photo by Pat Lurcock.

South Georgia “Plan for Progress”

The new South Georgia “Plan for Progress” has been printed. The Plan is an update to the original “South Georgia Management Plan”. The plan sets out the Government’s aims for the five-year period the new plan will be current, as well as giving a lot of background information on the Island. The plan was put together after a long period of public consultation and its full title is “Plan for Progress – Managing the Environment 2006-2010”.


Dead Rat Found Washed Ashore at Bird Island

Special precautions were put in place when a dead rat was found washed ashore on Bird Island this month.

Bird Island is one of the few rat-free areas on South Georgia and is home to vast numbers of ground nesting and burrowing birds, as well as being a very important breeding site for the endangered Wandering Albatross. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) operates a research station on the island to study the bird and seal populations. BAS already has strict procedures in place to stop rats getting on to Bird Island, particularly during the unloading of cargo at the research station.

The rat was found on the tide line near the base. It is likely that the dead rat was washed across from the mainland, where rats are well established, during strong easterly winds. When the rat was examined, it was in poor condition. Its stomach contained tussac grass fragments, suggesting it came from mainland South Georgia, rather than a passing ship.

As soon as the rat was discovered the BAS staff on the Bird Island implemented their Rat Contingency Plan to ensure that there were no live rats around the station: The station and local area were checked for any signs of rats, e.g. droppings, rat runs or rat footprints in the snow; bait stations were placed around the base buildings; and gnaw sticks (wooden sticks soaked in oil that attract rodents who bite the wood, leaving evidence of their visit), were placed around the local area.

Fortunately, so far there has been no evidence of rats on the island. However, as an additional precaution, an extended monitoring programme has been started to continuing to check for signs of rats across the whole of Bird Island.


Very Rare Antarctic Sleeper Shark Caught

Antarctic Sleeper Shark

The rare Antarctic Sleeper Shark. Photo by Andrew Bayne

A rare Antarctic Sleeper Shark was caught as bycatch by the toothfish vessel “San Aspiring” this month. The odd doughy looking shark was a small example at 116cm long. They are thought to reach well over 600cms when fully grown, and may even be the biggest predatory shark in the world.

Antarctic Sleeper Sharks are known to eat toothfish, rock cod, penguins, seals, squid and octopus. They hit the headlines in January 2004 when it was discovered that they are one of only two known predators of Colossal Squid (the other being Sperm Whales).

The shark has been frozen and will be delivered to a museum in New Zealand by the ship that caught it, which is New Zealand registered.

Overview of Last Seasons Tourism

The number of cruise ships and passengers visiting South Georgia last season were the highest ever, 49 visits were made by 21 different tour ships, a 23% increase in the number of voyages over the previous season. There were two cruise ships new to South Georgia, and all but one of the ships were members of IAATO. Non IAATO cruise ships are only allowed to land passengers in the Grytviken area.

During their visits to King Edward Cove, science staff from the KEP base gave presentations on “Life and Science at KEP” 18 times on 15 cruise ships.

Passenger numbers increased 31 % to 5427, and came from 49 different countries, with the majority from the USA (34%), UK (21%) and Germany (18%). The favourite landing sites, from the most popular down, were Grytviken, Salisbury Plain, Gold harbour, Stromness and Prion Island.

A third fewer extended walks (a walk more than 1Km from the landing site) were made than in previous years. However, the popularity of the “Shackleton Walk”, from Fortuna Bay to Stromness, continues to increase and was performed 26 times by a total of 976 passengers.

There were more than 4000 other (non passenger) visitors associated with the cruise ships, comprising the staff, crew and others. Of the nearly 500 ships staff (Expedition Leaders, lecturers etc), from 25 different nations, the majority were from the USA (23%), UK (15%), Germany (14%), Canada (14%) and Australia (9%). The ships crews came from 47 different nations, but the majority were from the Philippines (46%), Russia (16%) and Germany (12%).

Two of the cruise ships also visited the even more remote South Sandwich Islands, with landings made on Southern Thule and Saunders Island. The erupting volcano at Montague Island made an unusual destination for ship cruising.

Twenty-four different yachts made 26 visits last season, an increase of almost 50% over the previous year. 10 of the yachts were private, including two single-handers, and 14 were charter yachts. One yacht also visited the South Sandwich Islands.

There were eleven Expeditions: 2 successful kayak circumnavigations; 3 scientific expeditions - working to collect wildlife and climate information; 2 filming parties; and four mountaineering expeditions, two of which completed successful traverses of the “Shackleton Crossing” from King Haakon Bay to Stromness.


“Whaling in the Falkland Islands Dependencies 1904-1931”

Whaling in the Falkland Islands Dependencies


A new book by Ian Hart has just been published entitled “Whaling in the Falkland Islands Dependencies 1904-1931”. It is a history of shore and bay-based whaling in South Georgia, South Sandwich Island and Antarctica in what used to be known as the Falkland Island Dependencies.

Dr Bernard Stonehouse of the Scott Polar Research Institute reviewed the book and wrote:
“Historic accounts of early 20th century Antarctic exploration return time and again to the few well-known ‘heroic’ expeditions. This book tells of another brand of explorers – the hundreds of men in dozens of ships who, simultaneously with those expeditions, hunted Antarctic waters for whales. Southern whaling in its time was an honoured industry, employing skilled seamen in harsh conditions, delivering products that the world was glad to receive, and incidentally exploring and charting South Georgia, the Antarctic Peninsula, and the difficult waters south and east of Cape Horn. Ian Hart has investigated, with his customary scholarship, integrity and understanding, the industry’s early years. He tells a good story remarkably well.”


The front cover of “Whaling in the Falkland Islands Dependencies 1904-1931.”    

The book, which is in hardback, has 364 pages and over 250 illustrations, maps and diagrams and sells for £25. ISBN: 0-9552924-0-9. You can arrange to purchase from the author: email


Shackleton Scholarship Awarded to ex KEP Doctor

Dr Jennifer Keys is one of six applicants to be awarded a Shackleton Scholarship by the Shackleton Fund in the latest award list.

Dr Keys was the KEP Medical Officer last year, and it was during her one-year contract on the Island that she started researching the medical history of South Georgia. She is investigating the early sealing and whaling period, 20th century whaling and more recent BAS and military history, and will also touch on exploration and tourism medicine (See July 2005 newsletter). Dr Keys is now a General Practitioner in Scotland.


The Duck Stops Here

Chiloe Wigeon


Chiloe Wigeon

The young Chiloe Wigeon. Photos by Will Reid    


A rare vagrant duck was seen in King Edward Cove on July 27th. The duck, with a white face and rump was easily picked out from the two other duck species, South Georgia Pintails and Speckled Teal, amongst which it was mixing in a favourite duck roosting area near the wreck of “Louise” at Grytviken.
Initial attempts to identify the visitor were frustrating as it is probably a juvenile with dull plumage compared to the adults of its species, but South Georgia duck expert Tony Martin was able to confirm it was a Chiloe Wigeon.

He said “There have been a few recorded in South Georgia in the past decade or so…and I wouldn't be surprised if a few chiloe genes were mixed in with the SG pintails now and again.” The wigeon was probably blown over from South America in the strong westerly winds of recent weeks.


The Life of a Base Commander

Dr Ali Dean is a New Zealander, now resident in the UK, who has had a varied working life. Ali, who admits to being in her late 40s, can list upholsterer, usherette, dairy hand, caterer, gardener and working in a jewellery shop as previous employment, but most of all she lists being a single mum as her main occupation in earlier years.


Base Commander Ali Dean enjoying one of the many aspects of her job.


NOAA ice chart

Long fascinated by geology, about 18 years ago Ali signed up for a four day lecture course, and realised University life was for her. First though she had to go back to high school to get University Entrance qualifications. She went on to complete a BSc in Geology, followed by a MSc(hons) in Geochemistry whilst also working up to four jobs to make ends meet. Her son started his degree in Physics and Mathematics in her final year.

Ali then took up a scholarship at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia to do a PhD in igneous petrology, going on to work for the Australian Government at the Northern Territory Geological Survey, mapping and describing the geology of the Tanami desert northwest of Alice Springs. After a few seasons working in temperatures around 50ºC she decided she needed a change and applied for, and got, a job with the British Antarctic Survey as an igneous geochemist in the Antarctic. Just a few months later she was working under conditions diametrically opposed to those she had been used to in the Australian outback.

“Antarctica was fantastic”, she told me, she spent time in Palmer Land, just she and a field assistant working along the eastern mountain ranges, travelling by skidoo and camping in a pyramid tent on the glaciers in between. She also spent time on “HMS Endurance” visiting many of the islands and some of the more remote places around the Trinity Peninsula (at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula), being dropped by helicopter onto high ridges and rock outcrops.

As with so many who go south, Ali developed a love for the wild Polar Regions. When her initial BAS contract ended she was encouraged to apply for the post of Base Commander. She was offered the job at KEP, which she initially turned down as she had little knowledge of South Georgia, but after a bit of research quickly changed her mind!

Ali is the third female Base Commander for BAS. She describes her day-to-day activities as fluid, depending on the day and scheduled events, which can include ship visits, research fishing and South Georgia Government support. On any day her work might include: boating (coxswain, crewing or boat following); radio communications; cargo handling; waste management; report writing; induction of visitors; stock indenting and ordering; solving computing problems; and organising guest accommodation.
Ali is the first to have done two years in a row as BC at KEP. “I really love all of it” she said “I do, I like the variety of it, I don’t think any day here has been exactly the same.” Actually she did admit to not being fond of the accounting side of things! And despite her varied life experiences she says being a BC has been her biggest single challenge.

Now Ali’s time here, along with almost the entire BAS team, is coming to an end, most will be gone by Christmas, so what next? She will “…take a breather and see the family. “ but is applying for other positions within BAS.

I asked her if she would have any tips for the BC who replaces her, she thought for a while then said: “Learn to listen to people, really listen; Make the most of the time here as a year goes so fast; and never get out of bed before noon on a Saturday!”


Bird Island News

Albatross Chicks


Gentoos Penguins

The Wandering Albatross Chicks are huge now.   Gentoos Penguins rocketing out of the water to safety. Photos by Helen Taylor

Report by Helen Taylor who is a vet and one of the resident scientists at the British Antarctic Survey base on Bird Island.

July is a quiet month on Bird Island, with only the wanderer chicks being our permanent residents. The whole island’s population of around 800 chicks are checked monthly to monitor their growth and survival, and this season is shaping up well for these now huge balls of fluff, some as big as their parents. Whilst they patiently wait for up to 2 weeks between each meal, braving all of the weather this windswept island can throw at them, we are tracking the long trips made by the adults to learn where they are foraging.

Adelie Penguin


The arrival of the first Leopard Seal in June signalled the start of the daily Leopard Seal round, walking the beaches on the lookout for resting Leopard Seals hauled out or those hunting in the bays where Gentoo Penguins come ashore and Fur Seals spend much of their time playing. The sight of a Leopard Seal causes much panic and, as in the photo, the penguins rocket out of the water to safety. This daily round is also a good opportunity for spotting unusual wildlife and an Adelie Penguin fledgling was seen resting on our shores in a week of ferocious storms and a heavy sea. He originates from latitudes much further south and should be on the pack ice now, so he is a long way off course and has a big swim ahead of him!


A rare visitor Adelie Penguin. Photo by Helen Taylor    


Hair Today Gooneys Tomorrow?

You have to admire Jamie Watt’s patience and resilience. It has been more than eight months now since he took on the remarkably silly challenge to grow a combover to raise money for Albatross protection.

Now, only a month or two from finishing the challenge, he has already been able to send £600 to “Projecto Albatroz”, a Brazil based project who are using the money to equip observers to join as many of southern Brazil’s fishing fleet as possible.

A further $700 has been transferred to “Birdlife South Africa” to help pay to run workshops for observers and get observers out on tuna and hake vessels off Namibia.

Jamie thinks its well worth looking this daft…..


jam ie




The waters off Namibia and Brazil both attract Wandering and other albatross from the Southern Ocean, particularly the immature birds. They feed in the same rich ocean currents that attract the fishing boats and all too often the albatross are snagged on the fishing boat longlines. Use of some simple mitigation measures can make all the difference, as has been shown in the South Georgia longline fishery. The education and support the observers can give to the fishermen in an attempt to reduce the deadly bycatch is an important part of the effort to save these magnificent birds.

…..if he can help albatrosses like this survive. Photo by Jamie Watts    

For more background on Jamie’s fund raising effort and more daft photos of his hairs’ progress, and to help support his efforts check out: here

(P.S. Gooney was an old time word for an albatross!)


South Georgia Snippets



main base building

We took the midwinter photo during the few minutes of sun that hit the Point earlier this month. Photo by Charlotte Routh.   By July 22nd the sun was hitting the main base building.

Wild winter weather has restricted outdoor activities, like science fishing and recreational ski trips, for much of the month. Though we were in danger of developing cabin fever during the longest storms, one calm sunny day makes you forgive a lot. These rare sunny days also allowed us to plot the return of the sun to KEP. Around July 9th the sun was seen to hit “Fenix” and a couple of days later we were all down there at lunchtime trying to catch the few minutes of sun to take the midwinter photograph. By July 22nd the sun was hitting the main base building again.

Along with the returning sun and lengthening days we have to remember to take precautions when outdoors as the edge of the ozone hole has started to expand over us occasionally.

The Doctor performed midwinter dental checks on everyone. Charlotte had a three-day dental course before she came down here!

The flag was flown at half-mast on July 11th to mark the funeral for David Nicholls in the UK (See June newsletter).

Antarctic Sleeper Shark


Antarctic Sleeper Shark

This Leopard Seal on its ice “lilo” was followed by the webcam as it floated by. Photo by Jamie Watts.   The King chicks at penguin river were still fine on July 8th, but neither have been seen for a while.

It’s been another good month for Leopard Seal sightings, culminating on July 27th with three seen hauled out on their ice lilos in and around the Cove. The webcam hosted on this site was temporarily hijacked to follow one seal floating past on a piece of ice on July 26th, whilst one of the Harbour Patrol Launches went out to allow the scientists to get identification photos to pass on to the scientists at Bird Island.

Sadly the two King Penguin chicks at Penguin River have not been seen recently. Both were fine on July 8th, but on July 16th only one was seen, and later in the month neither could be found. I guess we have to accept that the severe winter storms this month probably did for them. Winter chicks probably have a much better chance of survival in severe weather in the big colonies where the chicks crèche together in vast brown furry huddles.

We said a temporary goodbye to Emma Jones the Government Officer, who is now home in Scotland on her four-month leave. She will be back in time for the tourist season.

An all girl party, Ali, Charlotte and Sarah C, went over to Greene Peninsula for a few days camping and skiing towards the end of the month. They were rewarded with a rare superb sunny calm day for their ski up to the snout of the Harker glacier.



snow storm

The things a storm bound crew get up to!   Sigma in snowstorm.

FPV “Sigma” dragged two anchors whilst anchored just outside the Cove on one windy evening. They managed to come alongside the next day to shelter from the storm. The crew found some odd ways to amuse themselves, constructing a large snowman beside the gangway, and one chap even took the bait when challenged that he would not streak to the foodstore and back….he was allowed to keep his boots on!

If you find yourself at a loose end any time soon, check out “Google Earth” and focus in on King Edward Cove. The definition of the satellite image is remarkable; you can see “Sigma” alongside the KEP jetty, and Elephant seals on the breeding beach, so we calculate the image was taken in around November last year.

Remember to check out the View of the Month on the South Georgia Heritage website.


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