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:
I am starting to lose hope here. Its past mid-august and the larvae should be out there by now, hence this week I thought I would put my all onto sampling and pull out my last resort: go deep.
Icefish larvae are caught in trawling exercises at depths of around 100m, so I decided it was time to try sampling deep. It was going to require boating time which is expensive, that is why I waited until now to go out there. So off we went Ella, Pat and I, to deploy a line of 70m with 8 traps along the line each baited with a glow light stick.
It was quite a weird moment when everyone on board looked at me and asked me: “So, where do we go?” – Huh? Blink, blink – I had never been in such position where I was in charge of where a scientific boat goes, and it took me a few second to react and understand that I was in charge. Mind boggling in certain ways, but it also reminded me that I am not a child anymore…. Anyway, we agreed on what seemed a suitable location.
It was quite a feat to deploy the traps, but nothing compared to hauling them the next day!! Wow, 70m of wet line, plus 8 traps, chain and anchor ARE heavy when you have to haul them by hand! That was hard work!
However, it was more the emotional blow that hit me, when we got back to shore and I found that the traps were mostly empty.
There was a lonely pretty shrimp in the deepest trap and a few small crustaceans in the one at 50m. There you go, I had just scored another defeat.
The shore traps are not fearing much better either. I’ve caught a fish egg, oddly enough. Sue is trying to convince that is a good sign… bless!!! but I remain skeptical…
I’ve had problems with the traps getting stuck in the ice as the surface freezes. Pulley systems getting ripped from the shore by high winds and wave action. Traps being blown onto the shore. Chains frozen into ice. Lights that have failed. I’ve leaned on shag pooh, have found that one wash is not enough, and now I’ve got a stinky jumper. Noup… I’m not at my highest morale level.
Nevertheless, I had a peek onto the hits on the blog, and I was gobsmacked!! Over 600 hits and from all over the world!! THANK YOU ALL FOR FOLLOWING THE BLOG!!! The map looked amazing!!! Although, who do I know from Nepal???
Last weekend, three of the girls went on holiday to Maiviken. They left on Friday and came back on Monday, which meant that we were only four of us left on base. I thought it was going to be boring, because half the group had left, but quite the opposite. It was a bit like when the parents leave you home alone!! So we were up to a lot of mischief over in base camp: There were lots of spooking each other around, music up loud, laughs at the bar, and we invaded the luxurious Shakelton House with popcorn galore to watch “Alien Vs. Predator”!! It was quite something watching a film about aliens that it’s supposed to be in Antarctica while one IS in Antarctica… (or sort off) and then having to go out there and do the late rounds… hahaha! But we couldn’t stop laughing throughout the film: it all started with a general explosion of laughter when we saw a Magellanic penguin appearing in what was supposed to be the Antarctic Peninsula, and then it just continued on… On reflexion, it’s funny how once you’ve been removed from civilization for a while, one becomes a bit like a kid and you let yourself enjoy those really simple but magical moments…
On Saturday Rod, Sue and I agreed to go ALL THE WAY to Maiviken to bring some “essential” supplies the girls had already run out of. The sky was covered and it had snowed a lot, so we put on some snow shoes and off we went on a nice hike up to Deadman’s Pass and to Maiviken.
It was fascinating to see Maiviken Hut being occupied, and it instilled a strong will in me to go out on a holiday before I leave South Georgia if at all possible. On the way back, I committed another mistake: accept Rod’s dare of a race up to Deadman’s Pass IN SNOWSHOES…
Hahaha… it must have been hilarious to watch, but maaaannnn that was a workout!!! I was drenched and out of breath by the time we reached the top. Needless to say, I lost…. But only by a few meters!!!
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!!!