30 June, 2003 King Edward Point
June. Umm, June. Well it’s been very busy and lots of fun and frustrating and sad. To try and leave you with a favourable feeling I am going to describe it in the order: busy/fun, frustrating and sad, fun (now you can skip bits as desired). Here goes….
Mid fishing season so lots of small long-liners came to the bay to meet lots of big ships (reefers). The little boats swapped their tasty toothfish catch for tasty bait (some argue that the bait, mackerel and sardines, is tastier than the toothfish though that is a matter of opinion and, probably, fish fashion), chocolate, fruit and snoring boring old staple foods. Then the little ships went back out to catch more unfortunate but fine fish in big, icy seas and the reefers went to fish bazaars around the world. Krill boats and their mother ships also abound and are happy: for this is a good krill year, millions of large, succulent individuals arriving in currents from the south. The image below shows transhipping krill. Click the image to enlarge it.
In all 42 ships entered our out-of-the-way bay this month, a record number in fact. All were enchanted over the radio by Sarah and tended by Marine officer Pat, captain Howie and his band of Tango-man helpers (even little mi Sue looks chubby in her boat suit). Many of the boats have beautiful or exciting names. Isla Alegranza, Isla Santa Clara, New Hayatsuki and Sagami sound pretty, or cool, to me. With the ships came 20 patients for talented doctor Sue and lovely observers with hard won samples (for which we are especially grateful) and ace whale tales. Sperm whales and Orcas now have a taste for ready toothfish and shadow annoyed ships. Though this flusters skippers we are excited to hear of rising whale numbers in these waters where they suffered before.
Between ships we managed a bit of cutting up science. Quarterly trammel nets set around the bay caught mostly Marbled Rock Cod. These dozy-brilliant fish come beautifully seabed schemed; old kelp orange, new kelp green, standard sand, silt blue/black and, most prettily, turquoise (engine size – I haven’t a clue). The pretty fish were heavily exploited using bottom trawls in the 1970s and early 80s. Five hundred thousand tons were taken from around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in the first two years of the fishery alone. Predictably numbers plummeted and thankfully bottom trawling is now banned. Our catches of large, oldish (ca. 20yrs old) fish contrasts with earlier records, suggesting that the local population may be slowly recovering. Yippee!
We also use little fishing boat Quest to collect samples of plankton, including larval fish. This month we caught baby mackerel icefish (Gemini icefish). This species, famous for its white blood, supports a small summer fishery. It’s a fickle fish population, numbers fluctuating wildly between years. Fluctuations probably occur for many reasons but a short life-span (most mackerel icefish around South Georgia are less than 6 years old) and fur seal predation is likely important. Unpredictability makes it tricky to set catch limits which satisfy fisherfolk and definitely leave enough fish to produce next season’s young and feed next season’s seals, fish and penguins. Luckily, international conventions decree that in Antarctic waters limits must favour sea creatures and birds over humans. One fine day such conventions should protect special seas all over the world. Back to the icefish: counting their babes in Cumberland Bay East may help biologists to more accurately predict future numbers of adults, or understand fluctuations in their abundance. We must, however, consider that most baby fish never make it to maturity, many being eaten (sometimes by their siblings), swept away from food or suffering other mishaps (small to us but big to a tiny fish).
Good-value skate expert Mike Endicott stayed with us this month. Skate are caught by accident on Toothfish lines. Because they grow slow and produce few young, populations of these slippery-smooth shark relatives are easily overfished. Mikes work is thus vital and we enjoyed learning from him. We also loved the tasty pies he cooked. Cheers Mike!
Wrecked ships. It has not been pleasant watching Moresko 1 break up high and dry on a well charted reef, spilling horrible nets, plastic and other debris across the beautiful bay and its beaches. Now we hear that plastic sacks have swept up the coast of the island. We worry for the spring wildlife in this wilderness that many strive hard to preserve. Time off has been spent clearing beaches and the nearshore but unfortunately we have neither the time nor the resources to travel far. Salvors arrived at the end of the month to deal with Lyn, the second grounded ship. We were relieved to see them and are impressed by their professionalism, hard work and empanadas. Bueno.
We love our observer/co-ordinator Bob (formerly known as Rob Gater). So on his birthday he got to wear a lovely shirt and Rich cooked up a mighty hot phal. It was fun, everyone laughed lots.
On our sunny day off plenty escaped across the peninsula to Maiviken. Here I would like to thank Pat & Sarah and Tim & Pauline. Their friendship and generosity in teaching us and sharing local knowledge makes our experience of this fantastic place a zillion times richer. Muchos Gracias amigos! This trip was wicked, sparkly blue snow, big mountains, frozen lakes, lucky us! It was also the first big ski trip for Suzi, Andy and I (Frin). Now I say ski in the loosest sense of the word. Imagine a newborn chubbier-than-normal antelope in the dark, with greasy, greasy, grease on its hooves. That’s me skiing, more lying down than standing, laughing lots, with cold ears.
Jamaica night. Ace fun, Sue cooked lovely rice and peas and jerk chicken and we had tasty sweeties (thanks Sue’s mum) and went Bob slaying (?!?!?!).
Midwinter day. Diesel and debris precluded the traditional swim but didn’t prevent us from eating like wild boars. Snips served breakfast in bed. Then ships then presents, ears glued to radios for the broadcast, then gorgeous course upon gorgeous course of tasty delights prepared by Suzi and her talented helpers. For supper the regular Covers were joined by intrepid Jaques and lovely Maria (just popping in on their sail back from the Antarctic Peninsula), observer Steve (full of funny tales) and observer new co-ordinator Gui (sleepy this night but later full of smiles). At midnight full stomachs were perfect for (snow) drift diving, think John Smiths advert – no water. Tim, Andy, John and Rich deserve awards for style, the remainder for shrieks.
More fiestas, with Dorada (cheery red patrol ship and post bringer), San Aotea II (slick-friendly fishing vessel), a fondue evening in the brill snow bar (skillfully crafted by Andy, Rich and John) and Snip’s barbecue under twinkling, sometimes falling, southern stars.
Love to our families and friends at home, we talk to your pictures and about you lots and miss you often. Wish you could all come and visit. And thanks for your cards, mails and parcels, we dance like mad when they arrive.
CONGRATULATIONS to Jane and Gareth. And Emma I can’t wait to meet you. Also Best Wishes to Mr and Mrs Sheppard, brilliant dudes. Kisses from everyone, for everyone, especially Sammy, Sara and Grandma, Grandma Little, Granddad, Nana B, Nana G, Grundig, Barbara and Gargie.