Friday, 22 February 2008

South Georgia and Falklands

Have made it back to the UK now so will try to summarise the end of the cruise. We did some work in an area downstream of South Georgia with very high concentrations of phytoplankton and then headed north, chasing penguins.
Two Humpbacks that came close a few times
King Penguins were being satellite tracked, thanks to two guys living in a tent in Hound Bay, South Georgia. They swim for several days, through the area of high productivity until it gets a bit warmer, then they start diving more and travelling less. Question is, why swim so far? We got to the area a penguin had been feeding in a few days previously and could see signs of fish on the acoustics shallow enough for diving King Penguins to reach (<250m)>

After that we were basically hove to for a couple of days, though we made some progress southwards. We got over the South Georgia shelf and did some work. Was good to get some data from there, but it annoyed those who wanted to still be at the Polar Front getting the fishing done properly. Next on the agenda was picking up the guys from Bird Island - Helen and Claire had been there a few months while Robin had been there for 2.5 years. Only the doctor and the guy in charge of the base got ashore (the base is just a few scientists going out doing the work in the field, generally as instructed by others, there is no base commander or chef).

Bird Island
One of the locals coming to investigate (Pale-faced Sheathbill)
Cargo tranfer from a Humber

Another view of Bird Island. The brown marks along the coastline are where the Fur Seals have trashed the tussock grass - a growing issue due to the rapid increase in Fur Seal numbers.

Next stop was Stromness, which is a very sheltered bay. We needed to dangle some brass balls under the ship to calibrate the acoustics (so they can work out actual rather than relative densities of krill and fish). Gave everyone else some time off so there was the first end-of-cruise party in the bar.

The old whaling station at Stromness. Now derelict and out of bounds, one of the other scientists stayed there some time ago, to do work in the bay. Apparently they spent a long time clearing the floor in the hall for somewhere to do circuit training and play badminton, but then the roof blew off. For the calibration we needed the ship to be as quiet as possible. That and the calm conditions meant that the main sound was the lamb-like calls of baby fur seals echoing around the valley.

After that we had some time spare so we tried to do a quick CTD transect to measure the flow along the edge of the South Georgia shelf, for a number of reasons. We steamed out to the end of the transect (which I decided on when we got there) and did the first CTD. Then approaching the second one of the propellor motors broke. Given that these are what actually turn the propellor and therefore make us go forward, this wasn't good news. We did the second CTD while they investigated but then we had to break off and head back to South Georgia. We still had work to do there and it would give the engineers a more stable ship to work on.

First job back at South Georgia was collect the gear from Hound Bay - the guys had got back to King Edward Point but had had to leave the cargo for us. Meant I got to have a play in a humber (RIB) but didn't get ashore. Wind got up while we were out so it got quite tough to just get the job done - no time for walks or photos (the boats were filling up with the spray so cameras would have got wrecked; I had to bail ours out with the cadet's hard hat).

Then round to King Edward Point, the 'capital' of South Georgia to collect people. Due to the broken motor we got a day ashore so went for a walk. That would have been special enough after a month on the ship, but it is a spectacular place.

Old whaling ships at Grytviken

South Georgian Pintails. They were feeding normally for ducks while we were there, but they will scavange off seal carcasses.

The JCR and King Edward Point. That's pretty much all the buildings there - is the administrative centre for South Georgia, and also has some good science facilities and a post office.
One of the locals, to be avoided

On the walk out to Penguin River
Looking down on the work to put a hydroelectric power scheme in.

The local vegetation

Our picnic spot

Penguin River, not much more to say!

Leaving for home
Ernest Shackleton's grave

Fur Seals playing, just need to make sure they don't think you're a playmate
Elephant Seal, somewhat more docile

Grytviken Whaling station, cruise ship and lee-wave clouds (the flying saucer ones, that don't move despite it being quite windy)

Blue-eyed Shag

Finally got back to Falklands, running the remaining motor at full power (normally both run at half power) so didn't lose any more time. Had a day packing all our gear into a few containers and then an afternoon free, so another walk out to Gypsy Cove.

Moulting penguins, one King Penguin and lots of Macaroni

Red Backed Hawk
Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron
Upland Geese - very characteristic of Falklands and a fitting end

1 comment:

USelaine said...

Magnificent wrap-up Hugh. Thanks so much for that. Fantastic photography and wonderful tales told.