Category Archives: Gentoo

What are we doing here?

So why are there seven of us on a tiny island for the Antarctic Summer?  First and foremost we are here so the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a presence in the South Orkney Islands.  This is arguable (and I should probably be careful what I write here) but with an Argentinian base on the nearby Coronation island the FCO needs to keep the current BAS bases running every year which in turn helps with the British say in the Antarctic Treaty.  Science probably comes equal to that and on Signy science means penguins.  The colonies studied on Signy have the longest data sets of any in Antarctica and they continued to be monitored every year.  Along with the penguins there is also a vast amount of other bird life, seals and mosses and lichens.  Understanding what is happening to the various species in Antarctica over time gives an insight into what is happening in the larger environment.

So seeing as lots of people have asked for pictures of penguins, here it is, lots of photos of the wildlife at Signy.

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Flying the flag at Signy Research Station, Coronation island behind.  If you’d like to have a virtual wonder around Signy Research Station click – here

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At signy we have three types of penguins – Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo.931A9196So can you spot the difference?  While this looks like one massive colony there are actually distinct boundaries between groups of birds.  Sometimes this is birds of different types (this is Adelies and Chinstraps) and sometimes just different groups of the same bird.

People love penguins – I think this is because we find some of their actions endearing and somewhat humanlike – they mate for life, they return to the same colony they were born in to have their chicks and the male and females take turns on the nest and going off to feed.  They also have very little fear of humans and look funny when they walk!

931A9638Tim (the Zoological Field Assistant) has two main study colonies – one of Adelies and one of Chinstraps.  In these colonies he has 100 nesting pairs that he checks every two days.  He checks each nest for number of eggs and/or chicks.  When the chicks are born they will get weighed and their diet sampled as well.  Above – Iain (facilities engineer) recording the numbers as Tim shouts them out.

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Recording at the Adelie colony.

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Adelie penguin posing for the camera.  Its hard not to imbue animals with human traits.  If Adelies were humans they would probably be the village idiot, constantly wondering around, falling over, stealing stones from each others nests and looking quite lost.931A9232The ecstatic display.  At times is hard to imagine penguins showing emotion but this does seem to be a display of pure love and affection – perhaps another reason everyone loves penguins so much.  It usually starts with a slight bow to each other , sometimes twice, there heads almost touching and then they bob and weave there heads either side of each other dipping down as low as there middles.  They then look at each other with there heads close together before looking away as if to check that no-ones noticed.  A pair of penguins might stop and do this every few minutes if they are both at the nest at the same time.

931A9644 Chinstraps on the nest.  The chinstraps are slightly smaller than the Adelies and don’t seem to do quite so much aimless wondering around.931A9199Chinstraps standing around in their pairs.  This has changed now with one of the pair permanently on the nest.

931A9260Gentoo penguins.  The Gentoos are a tiny bit bigger than the Adelies and a lot more skittish.  They also nest further away at the North point of the island.  While the two main study colonies on the Gourlay peninsular get counted every two days the other colonies get counted every couple of weeks.

931A9648Is that meant to be one chick or one egg?  Iain checks his numbers with Tim after another counting session.  

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We also record all seals that we see and in February all of the staff on base will be involved with the annual seal census counting every seal on the island over a few days.  Above – it can sometimes be hard to work out what type of seal it actually is (these are Weddell Seals)

931A9310Leopard Seal.  These are the absolute killing machines of the Southern Ocean and actually responsible for the last fatality at BAS in 2005.  This one was hauled out just below some Adelie colonies having a rest.
931A9360No doubt what type of seal it is when you see a Leopard seal close up.

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Elephant seals – the one everyone loves to hate.  These are enormous animals and they love getting around the BAS bases, keeping you up at night burping and farting.  The bull elephant seals are enormous and can grow to weigh about four tons.  These adolescent elephant seals have found a nice wallow amongst the crosses of some Norwegian Whalers a short walk from Base.  While ridiculous and disgusting on land they are amazing animals with the ability to dive to around 4 km in depth while shutting down their brains, operating on a sort of “auto pilot”.

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Elephant seal pup and its mother.  Pretty much the cutest of all baby seals its hard to imagine it growing into a full size one!

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Fur seal trying to scare me off.  Fur seals are really the only thing we have to watch out for on land.  They look and behave a bit like an angry Doberman and if they do manage to bite you the wound would be pretty dirty.  Sleeping, they look just like rocks and then leap into action either making a big fuss or making for the sea.

931A9247Southern Giant petrel – There are also lots of other bird species on the island other than penguins.

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Cape Petrels in the water at North Point.

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Iain looking down on the Gourlay peninsular on a rare blue sky day.

If seven people seems a lot just to count some penguins here is brief run down of our jobs.  While everyone has set responsibilities its very normal to help each other depending on work schedules etc.

Matt – Station Leader.  Deals with the running of the base, Comms and the bigger picture

Iain – Facilities Engineer.  Keeps us in Electricity and Water

Jim and Tom – Carpenters/Builders.  This year fixing the base and and the huts.

Tim and Mike/ Fabrizio – Zoological field assistants.  Mike and Fabrizio change over this weekend after a visit from the HMS protector.  They have both ongoing science and sometimes other data collection for other papers and PHD students.

Me – Field Assistant/ Field Guide.  Basically anything to do with being out “in the field” from training to helping with data collection to keeping the huts restocked with food and fuel.

Other blog posts coming soon – Life on base (with better photos of the team) as well as more about the Base and the huts and of course some more penguin photos (the first chicks just hatched in the last couple of days).

 

Also posted in Adelie Penguin, alastair rose, ali rose, Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, Signy, Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Heading South

Its now a week since I left home, slowly making my south for another season in Antarctica.  Traveling with the British Antarctic Survey is always slow and dates and times constantly change around you as you travel, making for lots of confusion and frustration along with a lot of time to read your book.  The changeable nature of traveling south is even more pronounced when traveling by ship to the island bases of South Georgia, Bird Island and Signy, where I will be spending the next four and a bit months.  The travel might be slow but is always interesting and this season even more so for me getting to travel through the Falklands.

I’m not great at understanding much about somewhere till I get to visit and while I had obviously heard of the Falkland Islands growing up I really know nothing about them other than they were “owned” by the UK, they weren’t very big, they were always windy and there was a war fought over them when I was a kid.  Since working for BAS I had also become aware that they were a major stepping stone for personnel going to work in Antarctica.  BAS staff are still sometimes referred to as FID’s (Falkland Islands Dependants).

931A8994Stanley Post Office.  When wandering around the Falklands a lot of it feels very British and then you turn a corner and see a penguin.

falkland-islands-location-mapI had never really grasped why Margaret Thatcher had sent the British Navy to the Falklands after the Argentinians invaded in 1982.  It makes more sense in Stanley where the people are so proud to be British and there’s a statue of Thatcher in the high street where shes heralded as the person that came to the Falklands rescue.  In a recent referendum 99.7% of the Falkland islanders voted to stay under British Sovereignty.  There was one person who voted against!

For those of us heading South the falklands is an 18hr flight in a Military Airplane via Cape Verde from Brize Norton near Oxford.   Military planes have loads of leg room and a box of food is thrust at you every two hours but unfortunately theres not 500 films to watch on your own personal screen.931A9001At one end of Stanley high street is a statue of Margaret Thatcher, at the other a statue made from the jaw bones of two blue whales.  This has stood since 1933 (with a bit of restoration) and is hard to believe that these could have come from any animal alive today.

931A9003Sort of British and sort of not.  British style town houses with tin roofs in Stanley

931A9006The only sign that you’re outside one of the most popular pubs in the Falklands.  Its very hard to tell whether a building is a shop, pub or someones house as there’s very little to tell them apart.

931A9018Black- Crowned Night Heron at Gypsy Cove.

931A9041Obviously with a major war having been fought on a tiny island there’s old ordnance all over the place.  The gun that guarded the mouth of Stanley harbor  is looking pretty old now.

931A9044I spent a day wondering in the hills above Stanley.  I’m told this weather is pretty rare in the Falklands but it was perfect weather for climbing!

931A9050Its definitely windy!  A wander along Berthas beach with some other BAS staff showed endless sand dunes and a few penguins.

931A9082Sort of like the UK and sort of not.  A gentoo penguin casually sauntering past some geese and a sheep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoarding the Ernest Shackleton in more normal Falklands weather.

We (the 7 of us going to Signy) should be spending four days on the Shackleton along with some staff headed to the other island bases.

Signy Antarctica.001Where is Signy?  Signy Research Station is a Summer only station in the South Orkney Islands, 600km from the Antarctic peninsular.  More people have heard of the South Shetland Islands (closer to the peninsular) as they contain Elephant Island where Frank Wild was left with some of Shackleton’s men when he set off for South Georgia after the failure of the Endurance expedition.

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While the Ernest Shackleton is an Ice Class vessel (not an Ice Breaker) she is known to have a fairly bad roll in heavy seas.  I thought the statement “If you suffer from motion sickness however slight this ship will make you ill” pretty funny at the initial brief but when we set sail tomorrow it might be a different story!

 

 

Also posted in Antarctica, BAS, British Antarctic Survey, Ernest Shackleton, Falkland Islands, Field Assistant, Field Assistant Antarctica, Field Guide, Field Guide Antarctica, Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands, Stanley, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , |