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GSGSSI Enters a Brave New World… of Twitter
For anyone who cannot wait a whole month to get their news fix, you can now follow us on Twitter and get up to the minute updates on what is happening on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Our new Twitter feed is @GovSGSSI. It was set up as a way for the Government to spread the message about the Territory to as wide an audience as possible. New posts are put up 2-3 times a week and cover everything from a regular look at our flora and fauna (#WildlifeWednesday), the comings and goings of ships in the harbour, fascinating facts, new stamp issues, anniversaries, events and much more.
Each post is only 140 characters long so even those with a busy life style should be able to keep up with the news!
If you are not currently a Twitter user, but want to get involved, all you need to do is set up a free Twitter account (https://twitter.com/signup), search for @GovSGSSI and hit the ‘Follow’ button. Or you can just view the posts, without an account, here.
Heroes of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic – New Stamp Release
A series of three stamp issues celebrating three South Georgia ‘Heroes of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition’ will be released on November 5th to mark the centenary of the arrival of the expedition at Grytviken whaling station.
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (Weddell Sea party 1914–16) is considered by some to be the last major expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. By 1914 both poles had been reached, so Shackleton set his sights on being the first to traverse Antarctica. Although the expedition failed to accomplish this objective, it became recognised instead as an epic feat of endurance.
The expedition’s ship Endurance left Britain on August 8th 1914, arriving at South Georgia on November 5th. After a month-long halt at Grytviken, Endurance sailed into the Weddell Sea where the ship was beset in pack ice and later sunk. The resulting story of the rescue of the crew is well known amongst the South Georgia community. Three of the principal ‘heroes’ of the expedition are celebrated in the new stamp issues.
65p, Frank Hurley and Alexander Macklin “at home” on the Endurance
. 75p, 'The Nightwatchman's Story' in the wardroom (or Ritz) of the Endurance
. £1, Midwinter dinner aboard the Endurance
, 22 June 1915. £1.20 Dr Leonard Hussey and Frank Hurley playing chess on board the Endurance
Frank Hurley was an Australian photographer and adventurer who participated in a number of expeditions to Antarctica. When Endurance sank, and the party could only carried limited stores, he only kept 120 of his photographic glass plates and some film. He dived inside the part submerged hull of the ship to save some of these. His stunning images of the expedition, including cine film of Endurance’s masts almost collapsing on him and the rescue from Elephant Island, are his best known work and have greatly contributed to the Endurance legend. The Hurley images used on the stamps focus on the more intimate photos he took.
The first Day Cover accompanying this issue features a self-portrait of the photographer.
65p, Portrait of Captain Frank Worsley. 75p, Frank Worsley and Reginald James observing stars during winter below the stern of the ice trapped Endurance
. £1, Frank Worsley and Lionel Greenstreet looking across King Edward Cove with the Endurance
below. £1.20, Shackleton instructs Worsley to abandon the Endurance
with the 3 lifeboats, dogs, sledges and a month’s supply of food.
Frank Worsley was a New Zealand sailor and explorer and was the Captain of Endurance. He was renowned for his navigational ability. Shackleton chose Worsley and four others to accompany him to sail to South Georgia aboard the 6.7-metre lifeboat James Caird. Worsley’s navigation skills were crucial to the safe arrival of the James Caird at South Georgia. Worsley accompanied Shackleton and Crean on the subsequent march across the island. Later he joined Shackleton to sail to South Georgia again when as Captain on Shackleton’s final expedition on Quest. The first day cover for this issue features Frank Worsley directing the helmsmen through the ice of the Weddell Sea.
65p, Portrait of Tom Crean. 75p, Crean had a varied range of duties which included looking after the dogs. £1, The James Caird
is launched from Elephant Island watched by Frank Hurley and the 21 other expedition members hoping for eventual rescue. £1.20, The crew of the Endurance
on the bow of the ship. Tom Crean is 2nd from the left in the first standing row.
Tom Crean left school aged 10 and at 15 ran away to enlist in the Royal Navy. He was a member of Scott’s Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions and was held in high regard by Scott with whom he had marched to within 150 miles of the South Pole. Crean was one of the last people to see Scott's doomed South Pole party alive.
Shackleton appointed Crean Second Officer on Endurance with a range of duties. His reliability, formidable resolve and great mental strength were vital to Shackleton and, in the expedition's darkest moments, Crean and Frank Wild were invaluable. After Endurance was abandoned Crean guided the smallest of the lifeboats, the Stancomb Wills, on the 5-day voyage to Elephant Island. Crean begged to then sail on in the James Caird to South Georgia. It was a truly terrifying and heroic journey, after which Worsley and Crean went on to accompany Shackleton on the 36-hour march across the island to Stromness. Crean then joined Shackleton in the rescue of the 22 men left on Elephant Island. The First Day Cover with this issue features Tom Crean, cropped from a photograph taken with Alfred Cheetham.
South Georgia stamps and First Day Covers can be bought from http://www.falklandstamps.com
Fishing and Shipping News
visiting Grytviken on a windy day. Photo Patrick Lurcock.
October was a busy month for shipping activities with 21 harbour visits to Cumberland Bay and nearly 400 paying passengers visiting.
Two trawlers were licensed to fish for icefish in the first week of October. This fishery is more usually associated with the summer months and fishing was poor. With catches low, both trawlers had left the fishery by the end of the month.
The main tourist season started on October 22nd with the arrival of the first cruise ship
Ushuaia. Three more cruise ships visited before the end of the month.
Four charter yachts also visited during October, two were supporting expedition groups.
Yacht Icebird had five passengers taking part in the ‘Ski Antarctica’ Expedition. The team had a very successful trip up the Briggs Glacier, across the Kohl-Larsen Plateau, and took an unusual route through a very small pass and on past the Wilckens Peaks before descending onto the König Glacier to Fortuna Bay.
Yacht Australis arrived at Grytviken on October 24th with an expedition group of 9 mainly skiers and mountaineers. The group had already attempted the Shackleton Crossing but had abandoned the route because of prolonged bad weather. They had intended to return and complete the route but more bad weather led them to call it off and instead they sailed for the South Sandwich Islands and plan to return and complete the Shackleton Crossing in early November.
The two other charter yachts had small groups of tourists. The group on Hans Hansson were supporting the work of two scientists setting up remote camera monitoring of penguin colonies.
The sailing and expedition plans for the charter yachts had to be changed due to the severe weather encountered. Photo Patrick Lurcock.
The USA research vessel Nathaniel B Palmer has been in the area to install three GPS stations at remote sites around the island (Smaaland Cove, Bird Island and Annenkov Island). They were hampered by poor weather but did eventually achieve the installations. They also carried out seismic surveys, swath bathymetry and mud dredging to the south of the island. The research ship called into Cumberland Bay in early October but sadly poor weather prevented anyone visiting on shore. Their work in the area was completed by October 16th.
Rodent Incursion Response At King Edward Point
On Thursday 23rd October, personnel at King Edward Point identified tracks of what was thought to be a rat in fresh snow close to one of the accommodation buildings. This area was baited during the first phase of the South Georgia Heritage Trust rodent eradication project in 2011. Since the baiting operation the area around King Edward Point, has been regularly monitored by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) for rodent presence and was considered to be rat free.
GSGSSI has a suite of biosecurity measures in place to reduce the risk of rodents entering the territory and a pre-prepared and practiced incursion response plan, so that immediate action can be taken should they occur.
The rat incursion plan, which includes spreading brodifacoum laced poison bait and deploying snap-traps in the immediate vicinity of the incursion, was immediately implemented by GSGSSI staff with assistance from British Antarctic Survey personnel on base.
Since then, there has been no sight of the rat despite extensive monitoring in the area. GSGSSI are optimistic that the control measures will be successful but all staff will remain vigilant to ensure that King Edward Point is rat free.
As GSGSSI strive to have the highest standards of environmental management and in light of this event, following best practice, will review its biosecurity and response procedures and see if any lessons can be learned.
Hand baiting around KEP after a suspected rat incursion.
Dick Laws Obituary
Dr Richard (Dick) Laws, who died on October 6th, was an elephant seal biologist at the KEP base who went on to become a much respected Director of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and prime mover in Antarctic science.
Dr Richard Laws was born in Northumberland and educated at Cambridge. He became a zoologist and joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (precursor to BAS), working for two years at Signy Base in the South Orkney Islands from 1947 where he studyied elephant seals and also served as Base Commander. He returned south in 1951-2 to work at KEP, again as Base Commander and to continue his work on elephant seals. During his research he developed a reliable method of aging the seals based on counting rings in their teeth, a method that was then applied to many other animals. He was also responsible for developing the foundation of a sealing management system that helped protect the animals’ populations despite them being harvested by whalers based at Grytviken and Leith whaling stations. Elephant seals were also the subject of his PhD.
Dr Laws worked at the National Institute of Oceanography studing whales from 1954 to 1961. This included him spending a season as a Whaling Inspector on the factory ship Balaena. He specialised in the ecology of fin whales and his findings were published as two papers in the Discovery Reports.
In an interesting and varied career in biology, his next positions were as Director of the Nuffield Unit of Tropical Animal Ecology in Uganda, then as Director of the Tsavo Research Project, Kenya, working largely on elephants.
Dick Laws returned to Antarctic science when he re-joined BAS in 1969 as Head of the Life Sciences Division, going on to become BAS Director in 1973. His period as BAS Director (which lasted until his retirement in 1987) covered a challenging period including the Argentine invasions of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands in 1982; events that affected the UK government financial support of the BAS presence and activities in the regions. During his very successful tenure he promoted and developed international scientific collaboration, particularly through the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). He also: edited the two volume ‘Antarctic Ecology’, a seminal work for Antarctic science; was Director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit from 1977-1987; was Master of St Edmund's College, Cambridge, from 1985-1996; and later in his career he was a member of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission.
On his retirement from BAS the Laws Prize was set up. The Laws Prize is an annual award made in recognition of the achievements of outstanding young scientists at BAS.
His work on elephant seals saw him awarded the Bruce Memorial Medal and he was awarded the Polar Medal in 1976 (2nd clasp 2001). He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
After his retirement he had more time to pursue other interests. He had considerable skill as a watercolour painter and became a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists.
Dick Laws, who died aged 88, was one of the most influential people in determining scientific policy in the Antarctic and was known as a scientist who was never prepared to compromise his principals.
Grytviken On Google Streetview
A rather extraordinary sight at Grytviken, a man with an alien-like appendage strapped onto his back, was explained as the arrival of Google Streetview to South Georgia.
Eric Wehrmeister was employed by Google to wear the bright green 20-kilo backpack and walk it around various sites on South Georgia. The ‘head’ of the backpack is a sphere covered in the camera’s fifteen lenses; the rest of the pack houses the powerpack and memories. Eric described carrying the pack as, “comfortable, but you know it’s there”.
Eric was travelling on the expedition cruise ship National Geographic Explorer in March, at the end of the last tourist season. He has been a videographer with the company Lindblad, which operates the ship, for the past three years. Lindblad went into partnership with Google for the project to put some of the more remote places in the world on Google Streetview. Offered the opportunity to assist in the project, Eric, who has had a lifelong love of maps, enthusiastically agreed. He was landed at various places the ship was visiting and was put ashore either before or after the guests to avoid the pictures being populated by red-coated humans. Amongst other sites, the special camera was deployed at Gold Harbour, Right Whale Bay, Prion Island, and at Stromness where he walked up the valley to the base of Shackleton’s waterfall. At Hercules Bay he and the camera were driven around the bay in a Zodiac. KEP was not covered, but in Grytviken Eric walked the camera around the site for two and a half hours, walking fast but being careful to cover all the main tracks around the station, in and around the cemetery and up to the Church. He also took the camera into both the Church and the South Georgia Museum.
Whilst he was at Grytviken the weather was not ideal, with horizontal blowing snow at times, which may cause some of the images to be blurry. He often had to stop to wipe all 15 lenses before carrying on. He explained that if the quality is impaired or there is insufficient light, for instance inside the buildings, then not all the images he has recorded may have been uploaded to the Google Maps. No sound is recorded on the camera.
Eric Wehrmeister walks the Google Streetview camera up the hill at Stromness.
Eric underwent a week of training at Google prior to joining the ship. With its head-like multi-lens bobbing around above the broad ‘shoulders’ of the pack, you can easily imagine why the camera might lend itself to being given a name, but he was told he must resist the impulse as a previously named camera had been ill-fated, so his camera was just known as “19481”. There were no such rules about Eric though, and as the man and camera made such an arresting sight, one of the staff on the ship called him the “Google Monster” and the name stuck, he was affectionately called that for the rest of the trip.
Eric was especially keen to be deploying the camera in South Georgia, a place he described as “the most mind-blowing place I have ever been.” For him it is a way of sharing the experience of visiting the place with many millions of people who will never be able visit the island in person, but who have access to broadband internet. Through his work and Google Streetview people all over the world can now ‘walk’ or ‘fly’ through the old whaling station at Grytviken, or up the boardwalk on Prion Island, where the wandering albatross are nesting within two meters of the viewer. They can even go inside the Church and the South Georgia Museum.
Visit South Georgia on Google Streetview by clicking on the links below; you can navigate by clicking the transparent white (X) which indicates the camera positions.
Video: here. See Eric, the ‘google monster’ in action with his camera.
New Book: Viola – The Life and Times of a Hull Steam Trawler
‘VIOLA—The Life and Times of a Hull Steam Trawler’ is about the vessel we know as Dias, which lies alongside Albatros at the old jetty at Grytviken with her bows set into the foreshore. Viola was her former name and she has had a long and interesting history. The book was published on October 24th and, amongst other things, highlights the vessels very active role in World War I. She was one of some 800 trawlers requisitioned from the Hull and Grimsby trawling fleets into the war effort to hunt U-boats and sweep for mines, keeping the shipping channels on which Britain depended open. One quarter of the requisitioned vessels were lost, along with half their crew complement.
Viola was armed with a series of bigger and bigger guns through the war years and engaged with U-boats on a number of occasions. She survived the Great War but never returned to her home port; instead she was sold into her new life of whaling, sealing, and exploration in the South Atlantic.
We plan to bring you a review of this book in a future newsletter.
The 224 page softback book ‘Viola—The Life and Times of a Hull Steam Trawler’ has maps and monochrome and colour illustrations . It was published on October 24th.
The book can be ordered from the publishers Lodestar Books.
Price £12 UK / £13 Europe / £15 Outside Europe
Bird Island Diary
By Rob Fry, Technician at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.
We have been getting the base ready for all of the new scientists and the new technician who will soon be taking over from us. For me that means cleaning and tidying all of the machinery rooms and workshops ready for the technician taking over from me.
We had some lovely elephant seals visit us and a number of the females have given birth to beautiful pups. There have also been some very volatile fights between some of the male elephant seals as they try to get some nice territory whilst they are here.
A elephant seal pup looks on as its mum is eyed up by a lascivious male. They mate a few weeks after giving birth so the males will fight to be the dominant bull on the beach when this time comes.
All the islands birds have returned after being away for the winter season and they have all started to lay eggs. The resident wandering albatross chicks have been on the island all winter and are now looking ready to make a start fledging.
Northern giant petrels are early nesters, which means they have to cope with all kinds of weather.
The penguins have been returning in large numbers; the big macaroni colony went from no birds to over 5,000 in a little over a week. Only another 75,000 still left to come back then! Their constant drone is a welcome background sound which we have been without for six months.
The gentoos laid their eggs during the middle of the month.
We also had a visit from some American geologists from the US research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer which came to fit a GPS Station on top of Mount Gazella. This will allow a signal to be sent between the other GPS positions, showing how much the tectonic plates beneath the earth’s crust move every year. Much as I’ve enjoyed the company of the others, it was nice to have some new faces around for the day and everyone worked incredibly hard in some foul weather.
I have both seen and done some amazing things whilst I have been here on the island as the base technician, from walking up and down large streams of ice, to making movies for the 48 Hour Antarctic film festival. What I have enjoyed most here is living amongst the spectacular wildlife, both that which inhabits the island and some of the interesting visitors too. I have also met some very admirable people who work very hard and feel very strongly about the work they do and the animals that they work with.
All photos Jerry Gillham.
South Georgia Snippets
Potato Store reveals its secrets: The GSGSSI building team has been busy since arriving on October 7th. An early job was to collapse and move the two huts that had been placed at Husvik, on the Tonsberg Peninsula for the first phase of the Reindeer Removal project. One hut was then re-erected at Hound Bay, on the Barff Peninsula. The two-roomed hut will provide comfortable shelter for scientists and others working in the area, and a safe hut for those on the long walk from Sorling Valley to St Andrews Bay.
Once back at Grytviken the building team quickly set to work refurbishing a number of small buildings around the South Georgia Museum (old whaling station manager’s villa). During work on the Potato Store, which required removal of the roof, some interesting things were revealed. The building, which is dug into the hillside to keep it cool, had further been insulated by a half meter-deep layer of locally dug peat sods, several of which were still intact. Several of the original builders had signed their names on the metal roof trusses in 1931. These features were recorded by staff from the South Georgia Museum, and several harpoon gunpowder tins unearthed from the roof space (dated from the 1930’s and 1950’s) were set aside for the museum collection.
The original wood roof supports were extensively rotted and are being replaced. Several of the original steel roof trusses were also beyond saving. Once reroofed and refurbished the building will once again be used as a store.
The Potato Store is being refurbished.
All set for the Habitat Restoration Project: A new edition of the South Georgia Heritage Trust Habitat Restoration Project newsletter ‘Project News’ was published in October. In it, Project Director Tony Martin is looking forward to returning to South Georgia in January to start the final phase of this world-leading project. And don’t miss the section ‘An Unexpected Journey’ by Dickie Hall, a long-term field-team member and current Base Commander at the KEP science base,. Meanwhile the considerable logistics are coming together. The bait, nine shipping containers of it, is currently on its way. The logistics of this alone are impressive. First it goes by road from New Jersey to New York, then to Southampton, UK, on a container ship. Offloaded onto lorries, the containers will be taken around the harbour to the nearby Ministry of Defence port at Marchwood, where it will be loaded on to the regular vessel which sails the entire length of the Atlantic to the Falkland Islands via Ascension. The bait should arrive in the Falklands in mid-December, in plenty of time for loading onto the RRS Ernest Shackleton and the final leg of the journey to South Georgia in late January.
The Trust still needs to raise £1.2 million to fund the final phase of removing rodents from South Georgia and the two-years of monitoring afterwards.
You can download the latest ‘Project News’ here [.pdf].
This penguin graph features on the SGHT website to show what funds still need to be raised to complete eradication of rats from South Georgia.
Skua v giant petrel: Previously undocumented behaviour in skuas has been reported to ACAP (Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels) by a scientist on Bird Island after
skuas on the island were seen stealing eggs from under nesting Northern giant petrels. Northern giant petrels nest early, a time when other food sources for skuas are scant. The biologist filmed a pair of skuas working together to raid a giant petrel nest. The male giant petrel was sitting tight on the egg, but one skua landed behind the bird and pulled at its tail feathers then called down a second skua that landed in front of the nesting bird. The first skua resumed pulling the tail feathers, making the giant petrel twist around to object at the assault, at which point the second skua grabbed the slightly exposed egg and flew off with it.
In another film clip a single skua worked around a nesting giant petrel, pulling at its tail and wings and eventually pulling the bird off the nest by the wing and then nipping in to steal the egg.
Despite being heavily studied this behaviour had not been documented before, which suggests it may be a relatively new feeding tactic of the skuas, or otherwise only practiced by a very few skuas who have learnt the specialised techniques.
Need a wildlife fix?: A beautifully shot 2 ½ minute–long video of king penguins at Salisbury Plain was put on line on the www.telegraph.co.uk website. Cameraman Glen Milner described the experience of visiting South Georgia and one of its wildlife hotspots: “Landing on Salisbury Plain was a truly unique experience. It has one of the largest king penguin colonies in the world and you feel like you’ve stumbled across the world’s entire population of these birds. Thousands of them reach as far as the eye can see to a point where they become little white dots far-off in the distance. When you lie down with your camera and keep still, they happily approach you to poke and prod in order to try figure out what you are. It’s a strange sensation but also one you don’t forget.”
The short film can be viewed here.
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