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…
We’ve just finished watching the films from the other Antarctic bases, and I must say that I am impressed with the quality of all the films!!! Wow!!! Some are really good! And some are really funny!! Bird Island have done a very impressive job indeed and I’ve given them top marks for best film! Unbelievable considering they are only 4 on base! And they didn’t even have a bath! Hahaha!!! Many of our ideas were also used in other films, which was a bit of a disappointment… I don’t think we’ll win, but we’ve done a good job I think. There are some really good movies on the open category too: BC Rod’s “Last Rat standing” is a beautiful clip of South Georgia’s charismatic fauna (a must see for all ya penguin and seal lovers!);
South Pole station showed some really fascinating movies of the sky from the south pole (South Pole); but my absolute favourite is the Vostok music for everyone movie…. It sent shivers down my spine, and I’ll even admit having wet eyes by the end of it… A must see for anyone with a bit of unfrozen soul in them.
On the sampling front things are not progressing. It’s mid-august now, and I should start capturing larvae now. I keep deploying traps off KEP pier, trying different permutations of bubbletraps, jellyfish traps at different depths, different colours of LED lights and glow sticks, have modified the design of the jellyfish traps adding more weight to the bottom to insure they stand the right way up… all to no avail so far. I keep catching lots of amphipods and shrimps and the like… but no fish larvae…. Which is starting to seriously undermine my confidence.
On an attempt to forget my failures, last Sunday Rod and I went up to Brown Mountain, a small easily accessible peak suitable for height fearers like me. I had been warned that Rod liked rather daring experiences, but I though the hill would not be too much of a challenge. We put on some snow shoes and off we went, it was a lovely sunny day and the hike was delightful.
I made to the top rather okay without too much trouble or knees going week. I know it was just a hill compared to the gigantic mountains around, but I was quite proud of myself. It’s not very often I go all the way up mountains, and I felt alright.
Mount Sugartop (2323m high), with a name like that, even I am temped to give it a go…
Mount Duse across King Edward Cove, dominating the BAS base (AKA home) in the middle.
After a cookie break we started the descent down the other way of the mountain, just for a change of scenery – Yeah, right! – Looking at the cliffs at either side was now making my knees go slightly weak…
but I was happy we were just going ahead on the ridge, until there was ridge ahead no more… I cannot describe the shock I was in when I realised we had to go down that 300m or so precipice covered in icy snow…
in my now self-recognised stupidity I decided to trust Rod and started to go down…. I think it must have been less than 30 metres downhill when I was already down to my knees and could not take a step without having both hand on the snow… and Rod was happily prancing down the 50o slope.
I was somewhat okay so long as there was knee deep snow, it gave me a false sense of security, but I was not a happy bunny when the snow was so hard one had to kick the snow with the shoes to make a dent to put your feet into. I tried to disguise my impending panic with joking and laughing, but I could not remove from my head the stupidity of my situation. I was not that afraid of falling, I was afraid of mentally blocking and being unable of taking a further step. And realising that there was no other way out of there but going down the slope… … … whether I liked it or not. Somehow I managed to control my fear for most of the way down, except for a bit where the snow was so hard only the very tip of the shoes could get into, and nowhere to put your finger into… no way Jose I was going through THAT!! Back the other way it was, through the very deep snow… Quite a while later we finally reached the bottom… and I felt like kissing the snow!! Hahaha!! I felt adrenaline rushed, but exhilarated, and happy that I had managed to actually go down that slope… There is no way I would do it again, but I was happy I did it.
The last part of the slope from the bottom:
In any case, we had reached Penguin River, and true to its name, there were Penguins around, loads of them!
It was a delightful stroll to station after that, dotted around with wonderful examples of the South Georgia wildlife!!
Amidst Penguin River basin, there is this outcrop, I fancy this must be the rock of “The Leopard Seal King”:
Penguins seem to like queing as much as humans, without apparent reason…
Now a few piccies for all you Penguin and Seal lovers out there (remember I’m a fish guy!!)
The rare chinstrap penguin:
“My name is Strap, Chin Strap”
Now, lets play “Spot the seal” … if you lose you get your leg bitten!!!
I told you they have teeth!!!
Thou, okay, I’ll admit it, even I go a bit awwwwww with these ones:
Who said that dinasaurs had gone extinct?? That’s a full size snow spade bigger than my head… Terrifying if you ask me!!
Lovely pintails… now off to munch on some seal carcasse…
Yup, there are seagull even down here…
A few pictures to remind us of South Georgia’s past, and “No, those round things are not stones”.
And the SPECTACULAR return home:
FISH!!!!! FISH!!! I caught fish!!!! Okey, it’s not the fish larvae I was after… but fish after all!
Yesterday, I deployed two of the bubble traps off the jetty and one of the jellyfish traps off the jetty but with a big weight on, so that it was fishing at 10m of depth. The latter caught these two juvenile fish (way too big for my purposes), but it shows that fish are attracted to the lights inside the traps.
I had baited one of the bubble traps with blue lights and it had attracted far fewer amphipods than the one with white lights, but there was this “thing” in the trap: it was completely transparent and had two tiny eyes. My mind immediately thought of an arrow-worm (Chaetognatha), so I didn’t give it too much importance. Unfortunately an amphipod ate the head of such “thing” before I reached the lab, so I could only look at the body under the microscope. After inspection under the microscope I was no longer so convinced it was an arrow-worm. It had fins all along the body, a caudal fin, and the body seemed to have muscular segments on it. After it died it also turned pure white, much like all the preserved fish larvae I’ve seen so far. Most species, including those I’m targeting, have melanophores (spots) along the body, but there are a few icefish species which have no pigmentation at all. Unfortunately, without the head I cannot tell for sure if it was a fish larvae or some other marine critter. I’ve kept the specimen so we can determine if it was fish or not by DNA analysis. This whole experience has made me realise that so far I have been looking for white or opaque larvae in the traps, as all icefish larvae I have been shown so far have been preserved in ethanol. But what if live icefish larvae were transparent? That makes the whole spotting them in white buckets a bit more complicated. I will be paying much closer attention to my catch from now on.
All in all, I still haven’t caught the target icefish larvae, but the novelty of having caught juvenile fish and something that may potentially perhaps be some sort of icefish larvae, has given me a new spur of hope.
Here a sequence of me deploying traps underneath the watchful eye of some curious shags:
Bubble traps sometimes need a bit of encouragement to go IN the water, but they do go eventually in the water:
And here is the new sport at KEP: jellyfish trap throwing!!
I I often get espectators while deploying and retrieving traps:
And this is the usual stuff that I get in them… a soup of amphipods, isopods, copepods, some polychaetes:
Then one needs to spend quite a bit of time looking at this teeming soup of stuff, trying to identify anything that looks remotely like a fish larvae… rather tedious.
What the …???
Here I was, happily trying to identify that misterious creature under the microscope, when sudenly, some unusual fauna appeared on the window….
It was the Government Officers, replacing the flag that had been damaged on the last storm.
Now we have a proper South Georgia Flag in front of base!!!! Oleeeeee!!!!
Other than that life at KEP is still very much in post-KEPwood mode, all we can talk about is the filming and what the other stations may have filmed. We’ve heard that some other station has used the same filming technique as us… so we’re not happy puppies about that …. And we’ve heard that Bird Island have an amazing film… but there’s only 4 of them there, so they can’t be as good as we are… can they?
I thought I’d give you an idea of what everyday life is like at KEP, other than deploying traps, running away from seals, photographing penguins, skiing and staring in movies.
Each of us is responsible for their own breakfast and lunch, but we have “smoko” (AKA coffee/tea brake in non-exmilitary venues) at 10:30 and dinner at 7 all together, which are welcome social events.
One person, who rotates among us, is responsible to make the earlies rounds (i.e. checking the whole station at 6am, digging snow from the front of doors, making bread, and aweing at the spectacular sunrises), keeping the communications log, and preparing dinner for everyone. On those days, it’s better not to plan to do anything serious as you’re pretty much in the kitchen all day. I love cooking, so it’s not like I’m precisely suffering those days…. Hahaha!
A visit to our food stores:
The day after one is on earlies, one is on lates, which means doing the rounds to check the whole station again at midnight’ish, closing all doors and turning off all lights, dealing with all the rubbish (ALL sorted into aluminium cans, steel cans, plastic, cardboard…. ), fighting the blizzards when it’s unreasonable weather, and making sure everyone’s in bed. Being a natural night owl, that’s easy peasy lemon squeasy, and I take advantage of that time to write this blog.
Now in winter there’s only 10 of us on base, so we have the luxury of having a bedroom each, which to top it all are ensuite!! “La class”!!! There a series of common rooms: kitchen, dinning room, two screening rooms, one with a projector, a VERY extensive collection of books, DVDs and musical instruments, and the Copper bar… obviously the most important common room of all!! The heart and soul of social life on base.
A Grand tour of our living quarters in SG:
On Friday afternoon it’s scrubbout time, and the whole station is cleaned up, a great way to finish the week. Today I was responsible for the bar, and I realised that whoever thought of having a coppertop bar did not think of cleaning it… that was a workout on its own!! It is now spotless!!!
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!!!!