Monday, November 30, 2009

At sea, bio-sanitizing and South Georgia Island. November 27.

After breakfast we all attend a required briefing on South Georgia. South Georgia is part of the United Kingdom and administered from government offices in the Falklands. We see a video by “The Government of South Georgia” (that seams kind of a strange term since the only people who live here are the staff of two small U.K. research stations). The basic message is “we are really serious about not bringing in any more exotic plants or animals and we are really serious about protecting the wildlife.” It also has some safety warnings, like “stay away from fur seals!” (punctuated by a picture of a person’s hand after being bitten--you can see pieces of finger bones.) Exotic species currently on South Georgia include a beetle, reindeer (introduced by the whaling industry to provide fresh meat), dandelions, and the Norway rat. Since the birds on South Georgia evolved with no land predator, they have started to eradicate the Norway rat.

After seeing the video, we are all required to go through bio-sanitizing. This includes have all our outerwear inspected--and camera bags and pockets vacuumed out. They pay particular attention to checking for seeds stuck in Velcro. (This is our second bio sanitizing--our first was before we set foot on any antarctic island.) As with Antarctica, we step in a disinfectant before leaving the ship and when returning from the ship.

To kill the time, another naturalist talk--an introduction to South Georgia. Did you know the South Georgia Pintail is a vampire duck? It will eat the blood from the wounds on seals.

Our first stop on South Georgia is the caves at the inlet to King Haakon Bay where Shackleton first landed when they reached South Georgia. We then head into the bay and take the zodiacs ashore at Peggotty Bluff--the final stop for Shackleton’s long boat and where he and two crew headed across the island (over a mountain range and glaciers) to find help at a whaling station on the other side.

Onshore the first thing you notice is that there are green plants (besides algae and lichen). The second thing is elephant seals. The pups that have just been weaned (“weaners”) are really cute with hugh black eyes. The adults are really ugly. We walk up a stream of glacier melt water. There is an alluvial plane of the rock powder created by the glacier as it slides down the mountain. It looks like a small version of the alluvial planes you see in the Japer park area in Canada. There are a couple giant giant petrels(birds) fighting over the remains of a dead seal--petrels fill the vulture niche at South Georgia.

There are about a dozen king penguins molting by the beech. The first king penguins we’ve seen.

Back on the ship, “the photography department” (Ron and Flip) have invited anyone with a laptop to create a three minute slide show sampling what they’ve shot so far. Some really impressive photography. Some really cool ideas I’m going to steal. We just didn’t seem to have the time to put a slide show together.

Oceanites also announces the winner of “how may penguins have we seen so far” contest. The winner was only 32,000 penguins off. So far, we have seen over 402,000 penguins (I was way off--I guessed 15,000)

  • 224,000 Adelies,
  • 18,000 gentoo,
  • 160,000 chinstrap.

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