Wednesday, 13 March 2013

All good things come to an end

The time has finally come for me to leave Bird Island. It feels like only yesterday that I arrived, yet somehow two and a half years have passed. What a crazy, bonkers, amazing, challenging experience it has been. I have been woeful at writing blog entries for the past year, so here are some events and photos from my last few months on the island.

New people!

The first ship call after winter was relatively late this year, in mid-November. By this time the beach and jetty were fairly packed with large male fur seals who were busy defending territories. This made unloading cargo and moving it up to base extra exciting, since male furries don’t like it when people encroach on their territory and have a tendency to charge at any trespassers, growling and baring their formidable teeth. As well as the usual cargo and fuel barrels, this year saw the delivery of three large storage tanks for the bulk fuel project, which also had to be unloaded and manoeuvered up the beach through the ranks of angry seals. As a result, First Call stretched into a three-day epic, but eventually everything was offloaded and nobody had had their face ripped off by a fur seal. Tea and medals all round!

Permanently angry: a male fur seal.
The first bulk fuel tank arrives.
Difficult working conditions on the beach.

Unloading the tank.

As always First Call saw the arrival of new people from the outside world, including Jerry, Steph, and Hannah, who will be replacing me, Jen and Jon respectively as the penguin, albatross and seal assistants. For the past five months we have been teaching them everything we know and they are now all fully qualified animal wranglers ready to take the reins when we leave. As well as the three new assistants we also met Tamsin, the summer Base Commander, and Craig, who has taken over from Rob as our technical genius

Team Bird Island, summer 2012/13: Jerry, Hannah, Jon, Tamsin, Jen, Jaume, Steph, Craig, me.

Fish Feud

One of the more unusual and exciting things to happen to meon Bird Island unfolded completely by surprise in February this year. As you may know from a previous entry in this blog (Something a Bit Fishy), Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his entourage came to the island about a year ago to film an episode for the new series of Fish Fight, looking at the fisheries around South Georgia. As I explained in that blog, it was clear when they arrived that they had a pre-conceived idea of the message they wanted to convey in the program (that all fisheries around South Georgia should be banned), a message which I do not agree with at all. I was interviewed by Hugh for the program, an interview which lasted around 45 minutes. Towards the end of the interview, Hugh’s line of questioning became very bullying and coercive, as he tried to get me to agree with his point of view.

The episode of Fish Fight aired on Thursday 21st February. As expected, Hugh’s portrayal of the krill fishery around South Georgia and the research we do at Bird Island was biased and unrealistic, and the show itself was misleading and inaccurate. The parts of my interview which appeared in the show included clips of me asking for some time to think about the questions he was asking before I answered. I have been told that it is standard practice to pause and think about your answer during a recorded interview, and these sections are usually edited out. However, they can be left in to make the interviewee look hesitant, unsure of themselves or reluctant to answer, which is precisely what Hugh and his production company did. The overall implication of the program was that I had been somehow gagged by my superiors, and that the reason for this was that our research is funded by licence fees which come from the krill boats. This is, of course, complete nonsense.

Naturally I was a bit miffed at being depicted as a paid-off stooge of the fisheries. After thinking about this for a few days I decided to write a letter of response to Hugh, and post it on the Fish Fight Facebook page. I posted the letter on Monday 25th, not expecting anyone to take any notice of it at all. Imagine my surprise when, the next day, I discovered that my letter had been picked up by various people and organizations on Facebook, and had spread quite widely throughout the internet. It had also come to the notice of some national newspapers, who had made enquiries about it to the BAS press office. The day after that the story was reported in The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Guardian, who all seemed sympathetic to my position.

For anyone who is interested, I have reproduced my letter, Hugh’s response to it and the three resulting articles in the next entry on this blog (Fish Feud).

Jerry has a holiday

A few weeks ago Jerry started experiencing a rather alarming pain in his teeth. The pain receded after a few days, but since no-one actually knew what was causing it, the powers that be decided that he should go and see a dentist in the Falklands. Luckily a ship was coming in anyway, so Jerry was whisked away and is due to return on the Ernest Shackleton at Last Call. In the meantime I have been promoted back to chief penguin wrangler, and will remain as such until I leave the island. Although I was hoping for some time off as Jerry took over more and more of the work, I am secretly quite pleased with this turn of events, because it means I get to work with my beloved geeps right up until the bitter end.

Hardcore geep - nesting on solid ice.
Dad shouts encouragement in the background as an egg is laid.

Last days

The Ernest Shackleton was scheduled to come in on Monday 11th February, to complete Last Call and take away everyone who is not staying for the winter, including me. I therefore assumed that Sunday 10th was going to be my last full day on the island, and spent it wandering around taking some final photos of the animals, visiting some of my old haunts and occasionally sobbing gently to myself. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day, exactly what you would want on your last day here. I climbed the second highest peak on the island (Tonk), visited some of the molly colonies, and ended up at Big Mac, where the penguins are just starting to come back from their pre-moult foraging trips.

View of Bird Island and South Georgia from Tonk.
A squadron of penguins.
Black-browed albatross.

Wandering albatross.

A brand new wandering albatross enters the world.
Skua squabble.
Skua finds a tasty treat - an abandoned geep egg.
Seal athletics.
Submarine puppy.
Dinner time at the shag household.
Grey-head chick.
Macaroni penguin.
My penguin wrangling days are over. For now.

Monday 11th dawned, and it could not have been more different than the day before. A massive dump of snow, high winds and blizzards all day. It was hard to believe I was even on the same island. Sea conditions meant that there was no chance of the ship coming in that day, so I had no choice but to spend the whole day playing in the snow and watching the fur seal puppies playing in the snow. As I write this (Tuesday 12th) the Shack has just decided to head to King Edward Point first and then come back to us when the swell has died down a bit, probably on Thursday. So I get a few bonus days on Bird Island. I’ve been here for 863 days now, but I’m still glad to have a couple more.

An unexpected blizzard doesn't seem to phase the puppies.
This puppy slept right through it.
Snow puppy.
I thought this was supposed to be summer?
Goodbye Bird Island! I'll miss you!

Team Bird Island, winter 2013: Craig, Steph, Hannah, Jerry.

1 comment:

  1. Hello!
    I love your photos, especially the nature ones. May I ask what lens do you use for them?