The last couple of days were spent writing up cruise reports, packing gear and tidying up. Last night we had the end of cruise dinner. At six everybody gather up in the bar for a drink. All had to be dressed up: at least a shirt and tie for guys. This was followed by a sitting dinner at which speeches were given by the Principal Science Officer and the Captain. The captain handed out small presented for some of the crew members and scientists. The foreign collaborators received a plaque with the crest of the ship. Afterwards we had a last social event on the ship: horse races. Basically it’s a sort of shortened snakes and ladders game played with six horses with the track covering the width of the bar. Two dices are used one to determine which horse is moving along the other to determine how many places it advances. In total six races would be run and each race the owners (the people rolling the dices) would change. The added difference is that monopoly money had been handed out beforehand and bets could be placed. Special prices were to be won for the winners of individual races and of course whoever would end up with the most money. I am pleased to say that my horse “moules frites” won the race and that I wore my fake eyebrows with pride. Glen and Colin from the kitchen would end up winning the big prize. Today we arrived back in Stanley at the Falklands, ending our time at sea. Work however isn’t over yet: the next couple of days we’ll continue the packing and hopefully get some time for another walk around the island. On the 21st we will be leaving for the UK again.
Yesterday the ship planned to go to Rosita harbour (the natural kind not with buildings and such) in the Bay of Isles at the North side of South Georgia in order to perform some acoustic calibrations. However the spot was already taken by a vessel from the Falklands fisheries department. As such we had to steam further east towards the nearest suitable location. As we arrived under the cover night we could not see much of this new location. Over the night Pete Sophie and Garaint were busy doing all the calibration work: trying to find a working CTD (in the end they had to use the one on the RMT25 net) and dangling little brass balls under the ship echo sounders using some high-tech fishing rods. At that time most other people on the ship were getting a quit night of sleep. At the crack of dawn I got in order to see this place not only for the beauty of this bay but also for it’s history: Stromness bay. This bay is composed of three smaller ones and in each of them are the ruins of deserted whaling stations. Each of them still remains as a crumbling and rusting reminder of this past. From a distance it look as if people could be coming out of the buildings any time. A closer look reveals rotting planks, rusty beams and animals wandering around.
The middle one where we were anchored is of particular interest. It was at this station that on May 20th 1916 two small boys were startled by the sight of three weather beaten men in search for the manager’s house. These three men not only travelled across a blank spot on the map of South Georgia, facing the mountainous backbone of island with only 50 meters of rope an axe to share between them, but had traveled much greater distances before. They had endured one of the most heroic tales of the Antarctic: Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. It is said that in the manager’s house, the white building at the left of the base a dark ring is still visible on the bathtub as a result of Schakleton taking his bath there. As the day crew started their shift we lifted anchor from the marvelous bay but not after making a detour to the adjoining bay were the Leath waling station is located. After that we set towards the open sea again, with only one mooring left to do and then…homeward bound.
At our return to the base we got some good news. As the work progressed well in the morning and the weather was holding well the Captain allowed all scientists to stay on for the rest of the day. This allowed us go to the other side of the island and to pay a visit to Big Mac. This time our guide was Glen one of the scientists who would be going back with the ship (as it would turn out he’d sharing the cabin with Sebastian and me). The start of our walk took us up one of the small stream beds that flows down the valley were the base is located. These streams provide some sort of pathway up the hillside covered by pouts of tussock grass. Nevertheless our route took us through the tussocks again (and yes I managed to put my feet in some gooey stuff again). Almost al the way up the hill seals could be found lurking around. At one point the landscape flattened out and we passed a small pond as we went over another ridge we came to boggy meadow lands and the seals were gone. We made a small detour towards the north to have a look at the Cordall Stacks, Massive cliffs protruding from the sea. Afterwards we continued our way to the west across the meadows. Instead of the seals there were Giant petrels and wanderers scattered around the place. As we continued our way our feet would compact the upper vegetation and water would seep through the ground. Surrounded these by huge birds we continued our way. After another stretch of tussock we came upon Payne Creek. Creek might be a confusing term in this instance because this is rather a gorge or an in let with tall cliffs on both sides. The ones on the left are exposed rock and covered by macaroni penguins. These penguins thank their name to an 18th century fashion where young men would wear flamboyant feathers in their hat. The same term was also used in the American revolutionary song Yankee Doodle. The opposite side of the gorge was steeper but had more vegetation and was home to a colony of grey headed albatrosses. After spending some time there looking at these birds we went back to the base to get a hot cup of tea and to get ready to go back to the ship. However the ship decided that the people returning from the base would not have to board the ship until the following morning. At this the base invited a small number of people to stay at the base as well. As it turned out it be Nerys the doctor and me. It was a great experience just to sea a glimpse of the life José and the others have on a base. While the ship is a place where a lot of the daily things like preparing meals is done for you, a base works much more like a tight student home. Every day somebody will cook a meal for everybody to enjoy sitting
As the first group arrived at the base jetty we were greeted by the base inhabitants and a small number of birds and seals. In summer this beach would be crammed with seals. However most of them had left for sea again. Nevertheless grim reminders of the struggle for life caused by a bad krill year could still be found on the beach. The reason that these cadavers are not removed is because they are part of this protected ecosystem and form a food resource for birds like skuas and giant petrels.
The first job was getting of all the frozen goods we had brought with us, followed by José’s gear and the fresh batteries. As some people started helping stocking all the frozen goods, other commenced changing the emergency batteries. Other started getting rolling and dragging al the waste drums to end of the jetty. As a mater of fact the work went so well that we had time for a short walk away from the base. José who has already wintered on the island was our guide.
First we went to the next bay where the gentoo penguins can be found. After that we started to make our way uphill towards Wanderer ridge. As we went up we had to navigate through the tussock grass which is quite an intensive exercise. While the centers of these lumps of tussock grass are quite firm, in between there are cracks filled with mud (some would say seals shit), making the hilly terrain ideal for ankle injuries and very smelly dirty pants and shoes. (didn’t get the first the latter on the other hand…) Additionally you always have to keep an eye out for animals such as fur seals that could be hiding in this high grass. Since fur seals are territorial animals and have a nasty bite, you always have to take care with them and understanding their behavior is vital. They are by nature curious animals and will be keen on checking out any strange intruders. Often they’ll bark at you and hop-bounce towards you.
Despite the way this looks his is not an act of aggression but rather: “Hi who are you? Wanna play?”. It is only when they start making more of a hissing sound that one should worry. Luckily, clapping your hands while moving slowly away from the animal generally does wonders. Of course you have to take care you’re not retreating towards another fur seal.
As we made our way up to the ridge we finally say the namesake of this ridge: the Wandering albatross. With a wingspan between 251–350 cm these magnificent animals have the largest wingspan of all flying birds. When at sea the size of these animals is often not evident, but one the land you only realize it to well. Their footprint is almost the size of that of an adult man (well in this case me). Slowly and carefully we made our way through the colony not to disturb any of the nests. On top of the ridge there was an unexpected sighting as well: a flock of cattle egrets. Obviously these had made it to land. I wonder if they would manage to find the right food around here. Then it was time to head back to the base, get a lunch and then back to the ship. Or would there be other things awaiting us?
Bird Island is a small island at the western tip of South Georgia. Upon the first discovery people were amazed by the diversity and abundance of birds on this island and hence the name. Although the island still has large populations of seabird some people think Seal Island would be a better name. At the end of the sealing era the population of fur seals on the island had been reduced to less than a dozen. Since then seal populations have known an exponential increase. In summer at the height of the breeding season the beaches of Bird Island are densely covered by seals. At this time of the year a large proportion of the seals have returned to sea.
The Bird Island base lies in a small bay near Bird Island Sound where South Georgia and Bird Island almost touch. The bay is too small and shallow to let the ship dock right in bay. This means that the ship has to remain in front of Bird Island Sound where it’s susceptible to the changing weather. If the weather is to rough the boats that bring material and people back and forth to the ship cannot be deployed. This means that the relief operation is highly dependent on the very changing weather of the Southern Ocean. For the base relief various things had to be done: José had to be dropped of wil the summer group had to be picked up. The emergency batteries at the base had to be changed over, food had to be dropped of for the wintering people and the trash had to be taken on the ship. All scientists that volunteered to help with the relief were divided in two groups. The first group would help out in the morning while the second group would help out in the afternoon. Those who hadn’t been to BI before were in the first group: this would mean getting up at six in the morning but in case the relief had to be stopped but would mean the having the best chances to get ashore. As one can image we all suffered the early rise with pleasure keen on getting foot ashore.
The weather has only been evolving in a negative sense. Shortly after we ended our shift yesterday and the daytime group had started working all sampling at the polar station had to be stopped. The weather had kept on deteriorating making any further sampling impossible. As the waves kept increasing during the following hours chances were small that there would be any target fishing during the night. However this was a good opportunity to change shift. Everybody has his own system but one thing is the same for everybody: nobody likes it. I generally prefer to stay up as late as possible followed by sleeping until the proper wake up time. So I gambled to stay awake throughout the day. Luckily for me sampling was indeed cancelled, which was of course less fortunate for those hoping to catch additional samples. The bad weather also prevents us from going straight to South Georgia and Bird Island. As a matter of fact our heading would rather get us to the Falklands. Even by the time that it got more sunny again the weather still remained rough. Hopefully the weather won’t stay so bad for to long so the ship can make good time going to Bird Island where two and a half days have been scheduled for relief. This means supplying the base with food and batteries and to take back any garbage.
The last night of sampling at the polar front! As the sun set it was still a beautiful day and the swell of the previous day had almost completely gone. This made sampling quite easy and in good, well reasonably good time we managed to get in three tows two stratified ones and one target trawl. Nevertheless we were still quite occupied until six o’ clock in the morning. This made our total successful nets on the Polar front six out a possible nine. Quite a success, even more so if one considers that along the main transect w only one station was as well. The catch again brought fort quaint and many marvelous specimens of fish and attracted both the attention of the crew and scientist alike. This last night concludes the RMT 25 sampling. During daytime other scientists hope fully will continue sampling, including some RMT 8 target fishing tomorrow night. However it seems that the wind is picking up and the weather seems to be getting worse again.
Ha the last stretch of science. Today the wind calmed down considerably and by the evening the weather could be considered quite nice. However the stormy weather of the last days has created considerable swell. This swell is a series of long wavelength surface waves that can still attain a considerable wave height. However they generally have quite a constant frequency and direction. Since the wind had dropped the wind waves hardly affected us any more. Still the swell could make the deployment of the RMT 25 difficult enough. Not only in terms of the RMT 25 swinging about on the deck, but also in terms of the changes an peaks on the wire en the RMT25. Nevertheless we went out and gave it a try. While deploying the first net we almost got our feet wet when a wave almost reach the deck. As the net went down Sophie and Peter kept a close eye on the tension on the wire. Although the tension was high the peaks did not exceed the safe. So it became a night filled with fishing. Two stratified deployment and on Target deployment. The catch we got was quite diverse with fish and zooplankton including several strange species. So after a day of delay due to bad weather we finally got a good day of sampling. This is already more successful than the previous two attempts they had in this area on previous similar cruises. Let’s hope the weather stay on our side for another good day of sampling.
Since yesterday the main transect has been done and finished with and we are setting forth again. Now it’s towards the Polar Front. The Polar Front is the boundary between the Cold Southern Ocean and the warmer subantarctic waters. Like other areas in seas were two different water bodies collide this forms a productive and diverse area. Copepods can be found in many forms and shapes and high numbers. Feeding on these copepods is an array of mesopelagic fish such as myctophids. It is also interesting that a lot of the enigmatic wildlife such as penguins and seals will often forage in this area, despite the distance they have to travel. At the Polar front we hope to do plenty of fishing in order to investigate the diversity of these fish and their role in the ecosystem. However, going there is not without trouble. So far the weather has been quite good, grey and dull at occasion but not to rough. As we’re approaching the Polar Front we’re faced with the roughest weather so far. So we have some rest, although this is relative since we often have to hang on to our stuff or inform people that their work area has been transformed from a tidy electricity workshop to, well euh a mess.
A special bonus for this occasion: an English nursery rhyme
Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!
Well this morning we were passing by South Georgia. We’re nearing the end of the main transect and will soon travel to the Polar Front for a special station. When we visited the bridge just before going to bed we got some nice surprises. First of all these icebergs, despite their nearness to South Georgia, are actual Antarctic icebergs. The detached from the continental ice in the Weddell Sea and have been transported Northwards by the Weddell Sea current. On top of that we got the visit of a couple of hourglass dolphin a fairly common but rarely observed species. The contradiction lies in the fact that they occur in the Southern Ocean were not many people come. However if you get here you have a reasonable chance of spotting them.