About Me

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Bird Island, South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands
I work as a Zoological Field Assistant, and am the 2009 Winter Base Commander, at Bird Island Research Station, one of the British Antarctic Survey's five research bases in Antarctica. The main remit of my job is seal fieldwork as part of BAS' Long Term Monitoring and Survey programme. Science has been carried out on Bird Island since 1958. I work with Antarctic fur seals and leopard seals, as well as assisting with the seabird fieldwork programme. Contact me on: ewanedwards at gmail dot com

Thursday, 13 December 2007

13.12.2007 - In the middle of the seal assistants busiest period...

Wandering albatross adult (with giant petrel behind) in North Valley

Skua on nest

Me at the top of Bandersnatch, with a snowy La Roche behind

Tussac grass meadows, and the white spots are adult wandering albatrosses, returning to breed

St Andrews Day, Bird Island style

The imposing North Cliffs of Bird Island

The Special Study Beach

The view to the southwest from the top of Bandersnatch...

...and the view to the northeast, with South Georgia in the background

The beach begins to fill with seals

It is now over a month since I arrived, but the time has flown by. Looking back, however, life on Bird Island has been so busy, and so much has happened in the five weeks since stepping off the JCR and first setting foot on the jetty. The beach in front of the base, which only a month ago had a scattering of young male fur seals staking out their territories for the coming breeding season, is now an ocean of seals, a constantly changing carpet of animals ranging from the smallest pups only hours old, to the large males with their extensive harems of ladies. For some of these males, this will be their last breeding season. Already, some of the older ones have held their last harem, such is the stress of defending territory for weeks on end, and they die in the stream that runs down the middle of the beach, which, as is not counted as territory, is relatively peaceful and free from attack from the other defensive males. The giant petrels and skuas do not allow much of a chance to die peacefully, and often start attacking the most easily accessible orifice as soon as they sense weakness in the animals. It is a sad demise for these beautiful animals, which arrive in early November in such fine condition, but become noticeably thin and worn out, and often severely wounded after weeks of not feeding, indeed barely moving, except to court females and aggressively defend their territories.

On the other hand, their successors are being born in their droves! The beach has filled, from the shoreline backwards, with female seals, and after a day or so, they give birth to small (usually) black pups. The little ones are feisty almost from the moment they are born, very quickly assuming the knowledge required to use their teeth as a weapon in self-defence, and a threatening but unconvincing growl! The peak pupping date usually falls between December 5th and 15th so this period is probably the busiest time of the year for the seal assistants. The morning session at SSB, beginning at 09:00 lasts four or five hours currently, and then we return again at 17:00 for two or three more hours. This leaves little time for recreation, what with other science work and base duties. However things will calm down early in the New Year, and Donald and I may even be allowed a lie-in!

The noise outside the base at present is comparable to the sound of the main campsite at T in the Park. If you are unfamiliar with this, imagine the sound of 50,000 Scottish nutters, on the back of a weekend of rock ‘n’ roll music and a few pints too many of lager, complete with whistles, screams and squeals, in a squelchy muddy field. It’s not dissimilar to this both in volume and substance.

Unfortunately my birthday falls in this intensely busy period. This time last year, on my 22nd birthday I remember being in St Andrews, celebrating with friends but at the same time puzzling as to what the future held. My 23rd birthday could not have been more different. There was no real change to the daily routine of late, with an early start and SSB both in the morning and evening, but the folk on base made a great effort to celebrate as much as was possible under the circumstances. I was given a framed photograph of a fur seal, signed by all on base, a knitted fur seal (bit of a theme here!) and a wonderful cake, and we all had a few drinks. But the big party will have to wait until Don and I don’t have to be on the beach for nine o’clock every morning! I was very fortunate to be able to share my birthday celebrations with over thirty new seal pups on SSB!

The weather has remained extremely changeable, and when it rains in the morning we often have a hint of sun in the evening, sometimes the skies clear and we are blessed with beautiful sunsets... although more often than not, the next day starts as manky and grey as the previous!

More updates will follow in due course, but with the hectic schedule and long days at the moment it is proving rather challenging to update as often as I would like! In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for the Gordonstoun Association magazine for an article about my job, and listen to BBC Radio Five Live at 0830hrs on Christmas Day for a live telephone interview about people celebrating Christmas in remote places!