South Sandwich, baby!

“The most awful place in the world.” James Cook, 1775

“A scary, serious paradise of penguins.” Tom Hart, 2014

Chinstrap penguins porpoise off Candlemas Island, South Sandwich

Chinstrap penguins porpoise off Candlemas Island, South Sandwich

Hi All, usual apologies for the delay, lots has happened.

The team has been incredibly busy, mostly on the Antarctic Peninsula, but also around the Scotia Arc (South Georgia, South Sandwich, South Orkneys and the Peninsula). I’ll resume the story in Ushuaia. Caitlin Black has flown out back to the UK and Gemma Clucas from Southampton University has flown in. In addition to helping with the cameras, Gemma will also be collecting samples for her PhD.

The South Sandwich Islands are a chain of volcanoes that arc around from East of South Georgia to East of the South Orkney Islands. They are volcanic and all active to some degree. Because they lie in such rich krill waters, they are a paradise for penguins, with millions of chinstrap and Adelie penguins. I’m privileged enough to have been there twice before
(https://penguinlifelines.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/south-sandwich-islands/) and (https://penguinlifelines.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/gearing-up-for-saunders-south-sandwich-islands/) and I’m in love and terrified by these islands in equal parts.

A visualization of earthquakes since 1898 neatly outlines the Scotia Plate to the North of the Antarctic Peninsula http://uxblog.idvsolutions.com/2012/06/earthquakes-since-1898.html

A visualization of earthquakes since 1898 neatly outlines the Scotia Plate to the North of the Antarctic Peninsula
http://uxblog.idvsolutions.com/2012/06/earthquakes-since-1898.html

It’s almost completely unrepresented in the scientific literature, but is essential to understanding observed changes in the krill transport chain impact of fisheries on penguins further West.

We join the Sea Spirit in Ushuaia, with a new team we’ve heard a lot about, but not worked with.

The Sea Spirit in Royal Bay, South Georgia.

The Sea Spirit in Royal Bay, South Georgia.

A spectacular voyage lies ahead, visiting the Falklands and South Georgia before the South Sandwich. With such a spectacular prize, it’s difficult not to wish away the start. The weather is kind, with some rain and wind in the Falklands, but nothing bad.

Gentoo penguins in the Falklands

Gentoo penguins in the Falklands

West Point, Falkland Islands with Black Browed Albatross overhead.

West Point, Falkland Islands with Black Browed Albatross overhead.

On route to South Georgia, we manage a photo census of Shag Rocks; part of our ongoing effort to monitor more colonies and understand the Southern Ocean dynamics. Shags are particularly sensitive to disturbance, making them a vital indicator.

Carrying out a photo census of Shag Rocks in perfect conditions.

Carrying out a photo census of Shag Rocks in perfect conditions.

We had a blissful, perfect five days on South Georgia, managing to get back to some of the cameras we placed in October and conduct more photo censuses.

King penguins at Gold Harbour (Gemma Clucas)

King penguins at Gold Harbour (Gemma Clucas)

But, just as we were due to leave South Georgia, a really large storm came through. We delayed a little, departed, turned back and then finally got under way again. Captain Oleg made a great decision and after another day at sea, the familiar shape of Saunders Island appeared on the radar and on the horizon. Wow!

Steam rolls of the side of Saunders Island in the South Sandwich. The camera was upright, and was still working until 10 days before we arrived. We serviced it so that it should be good for another three years. At this point, we were trying to work out where the nearest humans were – probably on the International Space Station.

I can't quite believe being back - geothermal steam rolls up the hill past a massive colony of chinstrap penguins (Photo: Dave Riorden)

I can’t quite believe being back – geothermal steam rolls up the hill past a massive colony of chinstrap penguins (Photo: Dave Riorden)

Spring hits the South Sandwich Islands - an image from the seaward facing camera.

Spring hits the South Sandwich Islands – an image from the seaward facing camera.

We had two days in South Sandwich, revisiting Candlemas for the first time since the 2011 survey. We left with a wealth of data to go through and immense pride, not to mention exhaustion. Dr Jo was threatening sedation unless I slept by the end…

(Brown) Trousers Rock off Vindication Island in January 2011; what the South Sandwich Islands usually looks like.

(Brown) Trousers Rock off Vindication Island in January 2011; what the South Sandwich Islands usually looks like.

...and in December 2014 on an incredible, calm day.

…and in December 2014 on an incredible, calm day.

A spectacular iceberg of Vindication Island with a leopard seal patrolling. The seal was calling for a mate. When we turned off the engine, we could hear it through the bottom of the boat.

A spectacular iceberg of Vindication Island with a leopard seal patrolling. The seal was calling for a mate. When we turned off the engine, we could hear it through the bottom of the boat.

A king penguin in the middle of the Scotia Sea, miles from home.

A king penguin in the middle of the Scotia Sea, miles from home.

As if the South Sandwich Islands weren’t enough, the weather teases us with the possibility of a landing (and camera) at Elephant Island. I’ve attempted this four times and always been blown out. However, I should have had faith in Captain Oleg and the luck of the Sea Spirit! We landed and placed a camera, making the monitoring network I’ve been trying to create for the last five years essentially complete.

Thanks Team!  The Sea Spirit team at Point Wild, the overwintering site of Shackleton's men on the Endurance expedition.

Thanks Team!
The Sea Spirit team at Point Wild, the overwintering site of Shackleton’s men on the Endurance expedition.

Gemma and I leave the Sea Spirit in Ushuaia with a lot of new friends and some bewildering, spectacular shared experiences. Thanks guys – there’s no finer team in the Southern Ocean!

Posted in 2014/14 field season, cameras, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands | Leave a comment

From South Georgia to the Peninsula

Hi Everyone,

Happy Christmas – I probably won’t get to update this again until just into the New Year, so let me send best wishes now. I’m in Ushuaia, mostly sleeping and recharging batteries (some literal, some metaphorical) before joining the Sea Spirit to go to the South Sandwich Islands with Quark Expeditions.

As you’ll have seen from Caitlin’s post, we had an amazing time on the Hans Hanson, an eighty-foot ex Nowegian Lifeboat run by Dion and Juliette on a trip along with Tom from Cheeseman’s Ecological Safaris.

Kings on ice at St Andrews Bay

Kings on ice at St Andrews Bay

We were traveling with ten adventurous tourists on a month long expedition from the Falklands to South Georgia and back to access sites we otherwise wouldn’t. The trip was absolutely amazing; breathtaking scenery on South Georgia at that time of year and the arrival of macaroni penguins was something I’ve not seen yet. I can’t thank everyone enough; we achieved so much and it’s going to be a very busy year trying to process all of the data from that trip!

On that note, I’m delighted to see the progress of http://www.penguinwatch.org – it’s storming along!

On return to Stanley, we were picked up by the Ocean Diamond on route back to South Georgia and on to the Antarctic Peninsula. A total of nearly four weeks on South Georgia this year means we were able to achieve an extraordinary amount. Moving from the Hans Hanson to the Ocean Diamond meant that we said goodbye to some friends and were reunited with Woody and the team. We made our first stop this season at Port Lockroy, and it was great to see the girls from Penguin Post office again!

As always, the Ocean Diamond was high energy and it was a struggle to keep up, but we did (just) and have just completed our second trip and downloaded over 200,000 new images from the cameras at about 9 sites. I’m now trying to back all these up in the down time.

Wonderful lenticula cloud over St Andrews

Wonderful lenticula cloud over St Andrews

So, all is going fantastically well down here! Don’t forget to email us if you’re waiting or would like a post card from Antarctica! We can’t guarantee when it will get to you, but it will reach you!

Next up – South Sandwich! Mike Polito has replaced me on the Sea Spirit, while Gemma Clucas from Southampton University joins me tomorrow to try and go swimming onto the South Sandwich Islands again. We’re looking forward to join Cheli and the team in a couple of days. The South Sandwich Islands are some of the bleakest islands on earth – where better to go and look for penguins?

http://blog.quarkexpeditions.com/the-south-sandwich-islands

So, I hope you’re all well, whether you’re cold up there in the north or basking in snowy sunshine in the beautiful south and all the best for the holiday season,

Tom

N shore Zavodovski

Posted in 2014/14 field season | 2 Comments