King Edward Point Diary – October 2011

31 October, 2011

The beginning of October saw a hefty amount of snow still with us here on the fair isle of South Georgia. It was in these snowy conditions that visitors arrived to our shores, with HMS Clyde on patrol down south, bringing with her the Commissioner of the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The trip allowed the Commissioner the opportunity to see the station at KEP in working action and to visit some of the important locations which the government oversee and manage. Some of the highlights included the old whaling stations at Leith, Stromness and Husvik and the important wandering albatross breeding site of Prion Island.

Myself, Alastair (Higher Predator Biologist) and Matt (Mechanic) also headed off to Prion Island to undertake the wandering albatross fledging survey. Back in April, Alastair and I were on Prion carrying out the initial albatross surveying, counting the number of chicks present on nests. This time we were there to see how many of these chicks had made it through the winter and were preparing to leave the nest and head out to sea. We were pleased to see that out of the 25 chicks counted more than five months ago, all had successfully grown and would soon be ready to fledge. The wanderers really are beautiful and impressive animals and it was fantastic to spend time with them on Prion; in my opinion, one of the most stunning places here on South Georgia.

As the month continued the temperatures started to rise and the snow began to melt and it soon felt that spring had certainly sprung! While the first of the elephant seal pups were born at the end of last month, numbers really started to swell during October. One sunny Sunday I took a walk out from base, along the beach to Penguin River and counted over 150 pups! In addition to the big male elephant seals territorially guarding harems of females with pups, the male fur seals started arriving on the shores, ready to stake their claim to a patch of ground and to the females who will shortly follow their arrival.

Another sign that summer was soon to be on the way, was the arrival of the first cruise ship in Grytviken. Over the course of spring / summer, cruise ships come to South Georgia, visiting the old whaling stations, seal and penguin colonies, and other places of beauty and interest the island has to offer. During the brief visits to the whaling station at Grytviken, invitations onboard are often extended to us ‘locals’ and it’s a chance to chat to some different faces and enjoy some fine food!

In amongst the enjoyment of warmer days, the abundance of wildlife and playing tourist there was some work to be done however! For me there was the monthly trip out to sea to carry out plankton trawls; this month obtaining samples full of fish larvae to take back to the lab and ID under the microscope. In addition to the usual work, myself and the mech got the aquarium facility up and running again, ready for some new residents due to arrive in the new year. This was a busy few days making sure everything was running as it should — made all the more interesting by a local male elephant seal deciding to lay its 3 ton weight on top of our water hose! As well as everyone’s normal work routine, there was extra work this month: It was time to don pinnies, roll up sleeves and prepare to do battle with mop and bucket — Big Base Scrubout had arrived! In preparation for the arrival of new staff and the start of a new season, the base had to be scrubbed from top to bottom. This was no small task and it took all hands on base a full three days to complete the spring clean!

In amongst the preparations for new arrivals it was suddenly realised that for those of us who arrived last year, a full 365 had now been spent on South Georgia! The 28th October marked our year anniversary and was suitably celebrated with champagne and merriment!

There was little time to sit around and sup champers however, as a few days later the arrival of the BAS ship James Clark Ross marked the advent of new faces and a few days of hectic activity as supplies for the year ahead were unloaded from the ship and stashed away in (hopefully!) the appropriate places.

And so the month ended with busy base full of new faces and fresh provisions! It’s been a great 31 days and an even better 365 — looking forward to what lies ahead in the next 12 months!

Katie Brigden

Fisheries Biologist