19 February 2018

Coming to an end

To find some inspiration for this week’s blog I am writing to you from the chains landing site on a mystical and magical morning. Although impossible to capture in any picture, I will try and share this special moment with you.


The natural harbour of Port Lockroy, named during Charcot's first expedition in 1904, is right now a breath taking watercolour with fog-like curtains hiding all the surrounding mountains. Doumer Island's glacier wall is lit up and the sky is greyish with some blue tones. The bay is flat calm, with only a few ripples here and there from the proposing penguins and a breaching Minke whale. Brash ice, bergy bits and a few majestic icebergs are floating around like pieces of art with different curves and formations shaped by currents and waves, and the parallel blue-greenish knife-like lines formed by the release of air bubbles which have been trapped within the ice. Storm petrels, Blue-eyed shags and Kelp gulls fly close to the water's surface. For a second, the watercolour becomes a funny video clip when two Crabeater seals try to jump on one of the nearby bergy bits. After several failed attempts sliding off they finally make it onto the ice. In these calm conditions, sounds travel extremely well, and now having spent three months down here, we have become experts on distinguishing different sounds of nature and animal calls.



We have to admit, we have all tried to imitate the barking sound of the gentoos. And we are not the only ones, as the chicks are now practicing their rusty bark-like calls whilst looking cool or funny in their personal outfits as they are in different stages of losing their down and getting their adult plumage. Some look like punks, some like rockers with long hair, some seem to be wearing a scarf, some have a very hairy chest, some seem to be wearing arm bands on their flippers, whereas others have already lost all their down.


This week we witnessed chicks going down to the shoreline and even a few taking an involuntary bath when running after their parents begging for food. It is funny to watch the adults running at full speed with a chick or two chasing behind, but this is an important exercise for the chicks as this strengthens their muscles. If the parents have two chicks the strongest will get fed first making it more difficult to keep up with its sibling on running round number two, so the weaker sibling then gets food as well. More and more adult Gentoos without chicks have started the moulting process, and we now even have a moulting Chinstrap penguin on the island. During this approximate three week process they will not be able to go to sea to feed. They look somewhat blown up and sad, standing there and losing the ir old feathers as they get their new ones before winter.


The island is in constant change. The once snow covered white Goudier is now as good as snow free, and all whaling artefacts are visible: The rusty anchoring chains used for mooring the floating factory in the whaling period 1911-1931, The year 1921 carved into the rocks, and the Solstreif (meaning Sunbeam) graffiti marked by Norwegian whalers when their boat of that name was stationed in the bay. We even have some whaling boat remains near the boatshed: one is the platform where the men used to stand when flensing whales, the other is the water-boat, used to collect fresh water from the surrounding glaciers in order to process the whales. To give you an estimate, in a 12-year period, more than 3,000 whales were processed at Port Lockroy. Goudier Island contains more than 2,500 artefacts, from the whaling period, through to Operation Tabarin when the base was established, and when the base was a research station until its closure in 1962. Port Lockroy isn't only a beautiful place, it also has a long and rich history.


With all the changes, we sense that our season down here is coming to an end as well. With darker nights the first stars have been sparkling in the sky above Port Lockroy. The amount of ship and sailing boat visits have started to decrease, yet our team size has increased. This week we welcomed Lauren, UKAHT's Antarctic Operations Manager, to the island. She will be staying with us for the last few weeks getting to know the operations on site and also closing the base with us. We are now finishing some last jobs and yesterday we received our last cargo drop of the season. We also took the opportunity to take a zodiac ride over to one of the other historical sites looked after by UKAHT, the nearby Damoy hut. From Damoy ridge we all looked down on our little island of Goudier. Probably this was our last opportunity as we will be closing the base on the 6th of March and once again winter will come and Goudier will be snow covered.


-- Hannelore --


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