What an exciting week!! I’ve have finally started catching fish larvae; I have set up the aquarium and its up and running; I now have fish larvae happily swimming around in mesh baskets in the aquarium and some have been alive now for a few days; which has all boosted my morale. This is grand!! This is absolutely grand!! Once again, everyone said that the fish larvae would die within hours.
Well, perhaps they haven’t been keeping fish in aquariums and ponds since they were 3. I knew one day my oddities would be useful for something 🙂 Hahaha!
My little hand-woven baskets to keep each day’s catch separate from the rest.
The only problem now is that my departure date is in two weeks’ time… Now I have to make some difficult decisions about what am I going to do: I am eager to go back home see my loved ones, I miss my people, but there may be enough funds in the project to extend my time here a few weeks… and I am now so close to at least having a go at what I came to do here; plus seeing the Antarctic spring would be a great experience: I may even get to see elephant seal bull fights and pups… everyone is talking about them here. I will have to discuss this with the rest of my work colleagues, but before I even suggest it I want to make sure there is a realistic chance of the experiment actually working. I need to make sure I can keep larvae alive for a reasonable period of time; and although I have caught larvae of three different species of fish and they will all be included in the work, I still have not captured the main target species: mackerel icefish (Champsocephalus gunnari). Two points that I need to sort out before a decision is made.
As a little pressie to myself, last Thursday I joined the rest of the staff on a trip to service all the huts on the shores of West Cumberland Bay. I had been working till very late for a few days and was originally going to stay on base weaving aquarium baskets, but decided to take the mesh and thread with me and weave on board watching the incredible scenery. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I couldn’t miss it. It was a beautiful blue sky day with no wind, just perfect for a boat trip.
Spectacular photos courtesy of Rod Strachan and Hazel Woodland:
We first visited Harpon Hut, and it was so cute! It was a tiny little wooden hut, made out of wooden scraps, painted in all colours and with little windows overlooking the breath-taking view over the bay. Very quaint. (Photos courtesy of Rod Strachan and Hazel Wood)
Next was Carlita Bay Hut, and that was something else. That was luxury!! It was shocking, in the middle of nowhere there was this … house… with tall ceilings, real bunkbeds, and kitchentop kitchen tops. It was a real contrast to the other huts I had seen so far. (Photos courtesy of Rod Strachan and Hazel Woodland)
After servicing Carlita, we decided to have a look at Neumayer glacier just around the corner according to the map. But after we turned the corner, Neumayer glacier was not for several miles into the bay.
It was a real shock to look at the boat’s GPS showing the edge of the glacier (mapped in 2001) and us: 4 miles INLAND. I have never felt a more powerful message of climate change. True, one is constantly hearing about it, about all these freak storms and draughts, and melting polar icecaps, predicted sea level rises or shortening of icefish larval stages, but I have never SEEN it first hand, so palpable… it was even intimidating.
The sadness I felt for that glacier was later multiplied when I remembered that has happened with dozens of glaciers around South Georgia, let alone around the world. On a more positive note, the glacier was awe-inspiring and I could have stared at it for hours. (Photos courtesy of Rod Strachan and Hazel Woodland)
On our way back through all the beautifully sculpted icebergs I spotted an old friend: Dear Old Sea Leopard was sunbathing on an iceberg, so we stopped and became papparazzis for a while.
Old Sea Leopard loved the attention and greeted us with a show of her not-so-pearly whites. (Photos courtesy of Rod Strachan and Hazel Woodland)
Unfortunately I have damaged my pocket camera and I have lost all the pics from the last week … which is a bit of a bugger. I still have a couple of more cameras, but not as versatile as my supposedly nik-proof compact, so the quality of the pics will not be as good from now on, unless I am lucky enough to be able to share the pictures of amazing photographers Rod Strachan and Hazel Woodland!!! Thanks a bunch!!!
This weekend the weather has been appalling, it has snowed a tonne, and the track to Grytviken is closed. So we are stuck on base. This Saturday it was Sue’s turn to cook, and I’ve learned that when Sue’s cooking, expect something good. But this Saturday she excelled herself. She summoned all of us at the bar at 7pm, properly attired to go on holiday – Mysterious – I felt celebratory so I put on a tank top, sunglasses and had a bit of an image change.
Sue turned up dressed as an airhostess, gave us our boarding pass for KEP Airways flight
to Barbados, and Hazel and I got upgraded to first class!!! Yeay!!! She then invited us on-board… onto the corridor!!!
There were chairs at either side of the corridor and beautiful pictures of lovely places at either side: Haiti, Ibiza, Morocco, Ecuador, Stromboli… I wonder where she got the pictures from 😛 . We then sat on our chairs with peanut bags and had to listen to the safety speech. There were even safety lights on the floor.
Then there was dinner, which came on plates for the us doctors on first class, and in tin trays for the rest. Hahahaha!!
The whole effect was mindboggling! Quite a few times I caught myself thinking that I was truly on a plane… which is weird, because I hate flying. Unfortunately, there was a big massive storm in Barbados, so halfway there we had to turn back to South Georgia L. Despite the disappointment of missing our holiday in Barbados, an awesome evening was had. Sue, you are one incredible (air)hostess!!!
Finally this afternoon Sue, Dan, Rod and I we decided to brave the weather and make a snowman! Yeay!!! Only that, after a bit, we decided it wasn’t a man after all and we created: SNOWSUE!!!! Yippiyaiyay!!! It was hilarious!!! SnowSue ended up being quite voluptuous, but very pretty… you can watch a making-of SnowSue here:
No progress once again. I know lots of people had told me it was going to be near to impossible and that I should not keep my hopes too high. But I, perhaps stupidly, had believed that luck would be on my side… I keep deploying traps to no avail… and this is getting very depressing. And harder to admit defeat whenever anyone asks me about the traps… So I’ll spare you my ranting.
Last weekend was August Bank Holiday weekend, I had quite a bit of work to do, so adventures were kept to a couple of afternoons. Saturday was an unbelievably glorious day, so I skied up to Gull Lake and Brown Flats on my own. It was actually really hot, so I was down to just a T-shirt and still sweating like a pig.
It’s a truly fascinating sensation being on your own in this environment, there is no one else but us on the island… and it’s so vast!! It’s a weird mixture of “I’m in the middle of absolute nowhere: if I shout NOTHING would hear me” and “I am the luckiest guy in the world”. And then when you’re in your own little world, you bump into someone from the station – Tara! – Amazing! After a couple of hours, I had enough of being on my own, and returned to base to find that the sauna had been put on – Yeay!!! – Being half-Swedish, I obviously love saunas!! And now I could do it properly: sauna, roll in the snow, and back in the sauna!!! Hahaha! Never done it before and it was so much fun! And then after sauna, it was my first fancy dress party at KEP!! Superheroes vs. villains! After a bit of rummaging around the fancy dress box, I put together a Sabretooth outfit.
On Sunday, we had a visit. A plane from the Falklands military was going to do exercise and was going to show up sometime in the afternoon.
So we went up to Brown flats with cookies to enjoy the reminder of outside civilization. It was rather weird making such a fuzz about a plane flying above us, but there are never planes above South Georgia… so it was quite an event!
Monday was a glorious day once again, but had work to do so I stayed in base. After a couple of hours I could not take it anymore and I moved my office outside: to read under the sun. And it was lovely!! So lovely that after another couple of hours I was in my swimming trunks sunbathing… in August, in South Georgia! Wonderful!!
I actually even got a bit of a tan! – Note for Antarctic explorer wannabes: my skin is quite dark so it copes with a fair amount of sun, others at the station are not so lucky and burn even after putting factor 50. And no one wants a sunburn.
However the most exciting thing of all must have been the return of the Pharos.
OMG!! I had seen the excitement of everyone on station the day I arrived, but I had not understood it. It’s like a grown up version of Christmas!! Really, Pharos is like Santa: big and red and bring presents!! Presents like oranges, bananas, apples, and onions, avocados, and butternut squash… but nothing excited me more than the lettuce – Oh my dear dear, crispy, fresh, green lettuce: I had missed you!! – Nom nom nom… I was caught in the action of stuffing my face with a leaf of lettuce that had “fallen off” while being carefully inspected (by me) for bugs … and I have been here only a month and half…
Hard at work checking all the freshies for stowaways:
Our newly restored food store: You cannot imagine my happiness at this view…..
I was quite bemused by some of the cargo: it appears that my favourite Swedish furniture shop delivers even in South Georgia!!!!
It also brings post to everyone on base… and even I got post: Paula sent me a bag of sweets, a pot of “Smooth & Spicy” mustard, and some “Tim Yum paste”. Hihihi! Thanks a million Paula!!!! You made my day!!!
Oh, yes! On Thursday I decided to put away some large (1.2 by 2.4m) planks of plywood as I didn’t need them anymore. So took all three of them and carried them above my head and started my way to the storing container. As I reached the corner to the container – zliiiipppp…. Kapummmm paw… papatakatakatakaaaaa…. Auuu…. – the floor around the container had frozen, I slipped on it, went flying, landed on my lower back and broke the ice with my head… it that wasn’t enough, the three planks of plywood landed right on my face…. I lied motionless sandwiched between the floor and planks of plywood for a few seconds, trying to figure out what had happened… Oooucchhh…. I was in pain, but I was actually more embarrassed and hoped that no one in the Pharos had witnessed my cartoonish fall. Admittedly, it had probably been quite funny. I peeked out of the planks; No one around; Okay, let’s get out of here. My nose was bleeding, from the outside. So I went to see Ella and Jo, who were very professional and promptly checked my head: no breaks, I’ll survive and I’ve learned another lesson: Always look where you are walking and do not carry things above your head. My lips have swollen, and I look like I’ve just come out of a Botox op; and my nose is much wider than normal and slightly greenish, it’s kinda funny, I look like a crook. Very convenient for my planned pirate party on Saturday…
Three weeks have gone by since I first stepped on South Georgia. I can’t believe it! Time is flying by… Sampling is proving very difficult indeed… Now I get why they say that fieldwork in the Antarctic is hard…
First it’s the leppies: Last Wednesdays we had the joy of a young leopard seal visit. It was very close to the jetty and darting from one end of the Pharos to the other, playing around the ropes and posing for the 10 or so very excited biologist taking more photos than paparazzis.
Here’s a little video of collective footage by Joe Corner, Paula O’Sullivan and Rod Strachan:
It was all very exciting for the first… hour and half? It was a bit less fun, when I had to go retrieve/set my traps at the other end of the peninsula before sunset and I was impeded to access the traps because “young leppy” had decided it was great fun to come see what the hell I was doing in the water knee-deep. An express exit was very much required… After a loooong while I was finally able to service the traps. Next surprise came on Friday, when as I was approaching the traps I see this massive head poking out of the kelp, at first I couldn’t figure out what it was and a whole list of potential animals crossed my mind… but after a few more pokes, it was unmistakeable. An adult leopard seal was again lurking around my traps, but this one was no joke. That head looked terrifying, and I am sure it was spying on us on the shore. It kept poking out and swimming and playing with the buoy at the end of my pulley system and checking the traps… there was no way I was going in the water that day. I’ve been told that leopard seals are a rare sight at KEP and it was very excited to see them at first, but this is the 5th time they are around here since I have arrived and it aint fun when you can’t service the traps because there’s something with a huge gaping mouth full of very sharp teeth lurking underwater.
The other problem I had not thought of are icebergs getting caught on my pulley system, which then encourages all the water around it to freeze over and I end up with ice-locked ropes and traps. Noup… that aint fun either. Given the freezing weather we’ve been having this week (-11oC) traps have had to spend the weekend out there.
And today, when finally the surface had melted and there were no leppies around, the whole pulley system/traps had trapped a whole bunch of kelp that must have been floating around… so this time, knife in hand, Ella and I had to go in there chest-deep and cut all the kelp off the ropes…. About 45 minutes later we managed to retrieve the traps. One was intact, one had the tubes twisted slightly and the other had missed a couple of tubes, but the lights were all still on!! Considering they had been there about 4 days, withstanding the attention of seals, full blast of icebergs and tangled among a bunch of kelp, I was pretty chuffed with the trap engineering. Hahaha! In any case, I have still not caught any fish larvae…. On Friday, my failure to collect my traps was lightened up the announcing of the 5 elements that need to be included for our mini-film for the Antarctic Film Festival! Every year, all Antarctic bases compete in making a 5 minute film including certain elements. The element are announced on Friday and the film must be submitted before the end of Sunday. This year the elements were: a Ping-Pong ball, a sneeze, a gingerbread man, a bathtub, and the phrase “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir”. Grand!!! Thank you french bases!!!! hahahaha!!! After much brainstorming and a few coffees/teas we finally agreed on the theme of the film and started making plans for our master piece. Within an hour we were filming. Cast, filming crew, director, baking pros, special effects specialists… the science station had suddenly turned into a Hollywood studio!! There were fake skies, mini and life size spaceships, diggers throwing snow, an army of gingerbread men … even fireworks!! Friday eve was great fun!
On Saturday the station was buzzing from very early, the Pharos was leaving to Stanley and with her Paula and Tony waved goodbye to the rest of us.
It was a sad moment, but to cheer us all up a bit we started inmediately with the filming and my acting skills were put to the test… oh my… I think that on average we only had to film every scene twice… so we were not too bad. Hahaha! Though I had never realised how hard acting is. We worked solid all Saturday to film all the scenes and by the end of Saturday I was exhausted. My favourite parts have been all the special effects: spice aliens, spiceships, doctors, eyeballs, blood, blood and more blood!! It was chocolate tasting blood which lead to quite a bit of confusing fun.
the director, getting a bit exhasperated:
Some outdoor scenes and blood… always more blood…
Then for some “romantic” indoor scenes:
Our base doctor, Hazel, making blood with Ella… I thought it ended being REALLY realistic…. a bit suspicious… 🙂
The director had a looooot of patience..
and some final scenes…
The film was edited on Sunday, and premiered at KEP living room. Now I know that if I can’t make in science, I can always knock at Hollywood doors! Hahaha!
The film can be seen here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B6xKzE6p5KMFX0FrZXJlV3lkTDQ&usp=
Look into the 48h category/KEP South Georgia/It came from outer spice.
A few more random pics of life at the station: Sunrise at KEP…. Amazing stuff!!
A day where we had another masive snowfall and I had to try snowrackets to reach the boating shed. Advice to would-be-Antarctic-explorers: “Do not try to jump with snowrackets on” …. … you’ll end up shamefully in the snow … plus risk breaking your legs!! A big no-no….
My first King Penguin !!
And more of those incredibly cute but sinister pintails… I still cant imagine them devouring a seal…
Many thanks to everyone for watching this space!!!!