At Sea to South Georgia

Feb 25, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer

After all the excitement of the South Orkney Islands yesterday, bouncing around in Zodiacs in the mad melee of chinstraps, fur seals, petrels, and predatory leopard seals, we had a quieter day today. We are still in the cold Antarctic waters, but leaving the peninsula. As we turned north between Powell and Laurie Island to leave the South Orkney Islands yesterday afternoon, we passed through a patch of rich ocean which seemed to be full of whales—small groups of happy humpbacks, and ahead of us, the powerful vertical blows of active fin whales.

This morning we had two preparatory lectures for South Georgia Island. The first was, “Avoiding Insanity: Life and Science on an Antarctic Research Station” by Jamie Campbell, an account of his research at St. Andrews Station, monitoring penguins and fur seals. The second was by our Norwegian naturalist Carl Erik Kilander, who in 2012-2015 was project coordinator for an ambitious program to clear all the reindeer off South Georgia. The 15 reindeer introduced by Norwegian whalers in 1911 had increased to over 6,000 in the last century and were destroying the tussac grass, a key habitat for many nesting birds. With the help of Sami herders and Norwegian marksmen, 6,749 animals had finally been culled, a massive contribution to the ecology of the island.

After lunch we had a mandatory briefing on the conservation regulations for South Georgia, followed by a full decontamination of clothing, bags, and boots to ensure no stray pathogens were introduced into this precious haven for wildlife. Every rucksack was hoovered, every pocket inspected, and every muck boot scrubbed. We have never been so clean! Biosecurity is the passport to paradise…

Dennis gave the final presentation, “How Plants and their Allies Made the World a Better Place,” describing how the Swedish Nordenskjold expedition collected botanical plant fossils revealing the 150 million years of ancient forests that once cloaked Antarctica. Now we sail on, the nighttime radar course set northeast for South Georgia tomorrow…

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About the Author

Ian Bullock


Ian Bullock is a British biologist who lives in St. Davids, Pembrokeshire, on the south-western seaboard of Wales. He grew up in Cambridge but was always drawn to the rugged cliffs of the west coast, from childhood seaside holidays in Cornwall to his university training as a zoologist in Bangor, North Wales.

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