The first seal pup of the season is here! Expeditioners find some interesting marine debris and the weather finally cooperates for a boating trip and training.

Station update

We awoke last Friday to a sunny day, negligible swell and 13 knots of wind that together heralded an impromptu boating day! A crew was hastily assembled and we scrambled to the boat shed to take advantage of the conditions. It was the perfect time to get in some Macca boating practice ahead of the arrival of the resupply vessel in October.

On Saturday morning all expeditioners available on station joined our fire chief, Nick, for our regular fire training. Nick and Duncan walked us through the science building and the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) buildings to discuss particular hazards that may be present in the event of a fire. The location of the uninterrupted power supplies, switch boards, server racks, plant room equipment, hydrogen generators and hydrogen cylinders were all identified to us, along with a suggested course of action for any responders. The session was especially interesting to those amongst us who typically do not work in or access these areas. These training sessions and the information that we share within the group are a critical aspect of our ability to maintain a self-reliant emergency response, down here in the subantarctic.

We welcomed the arrival of ‘Fatso', the first elephant seal pup of 2015 on 10 September. This little fella was spotted by eagle eye Lionel on the west coast. Mark was the winner of the pup arrival sweepstakes. Along with naming rights he was presented with a certificate and box of chocolates by plumber Ben who is wistfully coveting a new career as a trainee wildlife ranger.

The second elephant seal census was completed on Sunday, with Justin and Ben taking the east coast and Mark and Nick heading down the west coast. A few beachmasters are now establishing their harems of females on the west coast and the east side of the isthmus survey area is still relatively quiet.

The giant petrel census continued this week with a fresh troupe of volunteers setting out with the TASPARKS rangers. Rich, Duncan, Louise and Jacque all embraced the opportunity to see our Rangers working first hand with some of the islands beautiful wildlife.

The interesting beach finds continue here on Macca with Rich and Andrea finding a South African ‘MetOcean’ buoy on the west coast. Anna on the walk back from looking for northern giant petrel nests picked up a tracking unit complete with the hair of the creature that it used to be attached to. The details on the device directed us to contact a Scottish marine mammal research group, but the most exciting label was the one that said “Reward”. We look forward to further unravelling the mystery of these two latest finds in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

More marine debris collection

Another amazing trip down range to knock over some work and help out the island by collecting marine debris turned up some unexpected treasure.

Heading north from Davis Point on the west coast we found a large fishing buoy — it was a great way to start our day.

Fossicking amongst tussocks and wallows, jumping around rock pools and exploring the rock stacks turned up a seemingly endless supply of debris: plastic bottles, styrofoam, plastic fragments, sections of twisted rope, copious amounts of green string, not to mention all the fishing buoys and several very well aged 44 gallon drums. Finally arriving at the coastal foothills of Mt Waite, we were able to unload our bounty in the debris cache where it now waits for helicopter collection next resupply.

Two of the coolest things we found this trip were a big blue MetOcean buoy and a very battered drift card. Contact with the team at MetOcean has since revealed this to be a weather tracking buoy complete with satellite data and gps tracking. It was interesting to find the unit still almost fully intact, with its long tail and drogue (sea anchor) still attached.

The drift card was released by the Department of Seafisheries in South Africa. This old-school system is used to understand ocean currents without the assistance of GPS tracking systems like the MetOcean buoy. The research relies completely on the finders contacting them with details of when and where the card was found. It’s a bit hard for us on Macca to return the drift card via snail mail, so we have attempted to make contact via email, and are waiting on a reply — we hope to find out when and where it was set loose!

Rich Youd

First boating day of the season

Last Friday we awoke to some beautiful weather. My morning walk to the front gate revealed clear skies, no swell on the east coast and just a light flutter of a breeze. Days like this are ideal for boating and are rare on Macca.

“Carpe Diem!” I thought, and the early morning call for boat crew went out. Despite the short notice, willing hands pitched in and within a matter of 15 minutes we had a plan, boat crews, Lionel on the tractor for shore support, and Justin on the comms.

It had been some months since we completed our watercraft training in Kingston, and so Rich and I were keen to put inflatable rescue boats (IRBs) in the water in local conditions for a trial run ahead of the arrival of L’Astrolabe on VR0 (resupply voyage) in October.

Plans were made, boats were set up, checks complete and we were off. Launching was a dream thanks to Lionel’s years of experience and Ben’s efforts earlier in the season in removing a historically sinister rock at the landing beach.

After completing some basic manoeuvring practice close to station we ventured southwards towards Tractor Rock.

Ben, on vigilant lookout for kelp and rocks, went one better and yelled out “Whales!” — all eyes turned to the horizon. A pod of orcas were travelling directly adjacent to us and at the same speed as us! We radioed back to station so that photographers could find a high vantage point, and watched the pod as they porpoised along. We estimated that there was at least one large male and about five or six smaller whales.

Excitement on board was palpable. Unbeknown to Ben and I, one curious orca followed us for a while, whilst we were busy looking out to sea! Rich had the foresight to pack a camera and caught some great pictures of the pod, with Nick as lookout.

Eventually the orcas moved off to the northeast and we returned to practicing retrieval onto the trailers, under the watchful gaze of Lou and Maz. We were greeted back with a box of freshly baked apple slices on the beach. The boats were all packed up and cleaned down before lunch, concluding a very special morning on Macca.

A huge thanks to all on station who directly and indirectly rearranged their morning so that we could get out on the water.

Jacque Comery 

The last word