05 December 2016

Antarctic Sights and Sounds

Have we really been here for three weeks? The time seems to be flying by so fast! Every day is so full with jobs to be done and sights to be seen.

We enjoyed the first yacht visit of the season when SV Icebird sailed in to the bay. On board they had an international group of skiers and adventurers who have been exploring the peaks around the bay.

Other visitors this week have been Antarctic Terns, Adelie penguins and Weddell Seals. For me personally, the most magical Antarctic moment of the week happened while watching one of the Weddell Seals that had hauled out onto the fast ice. We were with the expedition leader, of SV Icebird, who knew a few words/sounds in the Weddell vocabulary.  To our delight he encouraged the seal to sing to us! If you’ve never heard a Weddell Seal sing, I encourage you to do an internet search to hear for yourself the sound of these amazing creatures.

There have been very few ships able to visit this week because of ice blocking the routes to the island’s
landing sites.  This has meant we’ve had to collect our fresh water from the shoreline: the sculptural glass-like pieces of glacier ice are our water supply until a ship comes in.

The ship-free days have given us the time needed to re-organise the shop and display all the lovely new items UKAHT has for sale. Importantly, we’ve had the time to work on conservation maintenance of Bransfield House. Over the winter water can get behind the paint of the fascia boards around the roof and the window frames; this makes a perfect home for algae to grow and begin to rot the wood. It’s essential early in the season to scrape back the paint to dry out the wood and remove the algae before priming and top coating. It’s a satisfying job getting the old paint off and knowing that we’re giving the building the best possible treatment to resist the rigors of Antarctic winters.

On Saturday we had our first ship visit in seven days. The air was perfectly still and the sea was a mirror when the Ponant vessel, Le Boreal, sailed into the bay. The passengers were blessed with such a beautiful morning. Port Lockroy was their first shore landing of their trip, so we were delighted to give them a warm Antarctic welcome, share some of the history of the area and give them a glimpse into what life on base was like in the 1950s.  While we work hard to provide a memorable experience for visitors, the visiting ships also look after us. The Ponant team looked after us very well. We each had a hot shower and had some clothes laundered, both were very much needed: we seem to soak up the aroma of the penguins, as we live so close to them!

Many blog followers may already know that the team monitors the penguin colony on behalf of the British Antarctic Survey: we collect data throughout the season, counting the number of nests, eggs and chicks. The research is helping to understand whether human presence has any impact on the gentoos’ breeding success. We’ve been counting the eggs in one of the small colonies since we arrived to record when the number of eggs in nests reaches 95%: this dictates that it’s time to count all nests and eggs across the whole of the island. This week the penguins reached 95.8%! Next week we’ll be able to share the total number of nests and eggs.

A lot has happened since the last blog, but the occasion of the week has to be the 1st of December, not only did we open the first window of our advent calendars, but it was also Antarctica Day! We decorated ourselves and the Nissen Hut with Antarctic tartan and went on a mini-Antarctic expedition to Bills Island. Bills is our neighbouring island just 100 metres away which can be reached at low tide. We went across to survey the wildlife but ended up making snow angels and taking Antarctica Day team photos with a tartan flag! After our trip out we had a special afternoon tea with a cake baked by Hannelore, iced with a map of the continent. What a thrill to celebrate Antarctica Day in Antarctica.

Adele Jackson

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