King Edward Point Diary – January 2011

31 January, 2011

January 2011 and another year beings at King Edward Point, South Georgia… The New Year was welcomed in with a fantastic three course meal, drinks and party atmosphere a’flowing, and of course the traditional Auld Lang Syne — as was wonderfully delivered by our resident musicians Pat and Rob. The next day on base wasn’t quite as lively however, and with the arrival of some drizzly weather, many of us chose to seek comfort and shelter inside and rest for the day! This was not to be a sign of things to come though and January rapidly became busy for many of us…

For myself, the Fishery Patrol Vessel Pharos returned with plankton trawl samples which had been carried out by the outgoing predatory scientist — allowing me to miss the delights of the Pharos pitching and rolling in the waters of South Georgia! Plankton sampling is undertaken regularly to monitor abundance of fish larvae around the island. This is something which is part of my work and generally involves trawling just offshore of the island at unsocial dawn and dusk times, to be then followed by a sort through the samples looking for krill and very small fish larvae and identifying them under the microscope. With all the kritters identified, counted and measured, the information is entered into the database and I then await the return of the Pharos for the next trawls!

In addition to my own work, I also assisted Alastair, the Zoological Field Assistant, with some seal work. This involves GPS tagging female seals over at Maiviken beach and recapturing them after a few days to take back the tag in order to see where they are feeding and how far they are travelling. This work, in addition to Alastair’s seal scat analysis, provides information which may then be utilised to monitor the fur seal population. This month we also had the first of the three monthly seal pup weighings, whereby 100 pups are weighed each month to monitor their growth as young pups — this can be hard work but very enjoyable too! More to come from Alastair on his fur seal work!

January also saw quite a few cruise ships coming and going in Cumberland Bay, with tourists ambling around the old whaling station at Grytviken in various brightly coloured waterproofs! For us guys on base this means the opportunity for a change of scenery and some new faces to converse with as invites are extended for us to go onboard while the ships are in the bay. Several of the ships were kind enough to invite us on this month, with myself and Alastair giving a couple of presentations in relation to the science carried out at King Edward Point and life in general here. Of particular note was a visit from MS The World. This ship serves as a residential community, owned by the residents who can live aboard year round or come and go as they please throughout the year as she travels the globe. There are 165 residences and a variety of onboard facilities, including restaurants, a grocery store and delicatessen, cinema, boutique, jewellers, casino, spa, pool, fitness studio, jogging track, full size tennis court and even a golf club! At 196 m long, 30 m wide and 12 decks high, she is one of the largest vessels to visit South Georgia and certainly was a most impressive sight here in Cumberland Bay!

From cruise ships to military ships, we were also visited by HMS Gloucester and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Black Rover. Having been on tour for around eight months, this was a great opportunity for the guys onboard to get ashore and see some of South Georgia and also a great opportunity for us guys on base to get some boating practice in! We had both RIBs out for most of the weekend they were here, taking them to and from the ship in some glorious weather. Our boating activities also proved a great opportunity to see some more of South Georgia’s fantastic wildlife: On a rather early morning run over to Sørling to pick up some of the troops who had been on exercise we happened to come across a leopard seal hauled out on an ice floe — amazing! We were lucky enough to be able to sit and watch this beautiful creature for some time as it laid peacefully on the ice. Regrettably I had rushed out for the early morning start and forgotten my camera, but luckily Rob, our reliable Base Commander, had his and was able to get some cracking shots!

With the departure of the ships from Cumberland Bay, some level of peace was restored to base and we all got back into the usual routine of our jobs. For myself however, no such respite was on offer, with January 2011 marking the time for South Georgia’s annual Groundfish Survey. I boarded the Fishing Vessel Sil, along with scientists from the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and BAS Cambridge, to take to the waters around South Georgia and go fishing! The survey has taken place since the late 1980’s with the primary purpose provide an estimate of the standing stock and age structure of the mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari) population. The work onboard was pretty much non-stop, rising at 6am for the first trawl and continuing fishing into the evening. It proved to be a fantastic trip though, with lots of fishy fun had by all, and great success had, as we completed 87 trawls in 10 days! I returned to King Edward Point after the survey at the beginning of February, somewhat in need of sleep and a shower before tackling the 1600 fishy samples collected!

Katie Brigden (Fisheries Scientist, KEP)