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

Sunday, 23 March 2008

23.03.2008 - Photos of Prince House

Fur seal pups on the back walkway

The 'wet' (animal handling) lab

The 'dry' lab

Fur seal pups outside the lab

The view north from the main door, showing the VSAT dome and Roche Peak

Dining and living room

View south from the dining table, over the beach with seals and penguins
Hot cross buns on Good Friday


The boot room, where we store and dry our outdoor gear

The main office

Dry food store

The freezer room, where we keep the beer and chocolate also

The main accommodation corridor

The medical cabinet

The main water holding tank

The new base on Bird Island, Prince House, was completed during 2005 and has been fully operational since then. Accomodating up to twelve people, although ten being the usual maximum, it is a well insulated new building with everything you would expect from a modern scientific station. The living quarters are spacious, warm and comfortable, and the workspaces are also built to an excellent standard, allowing us to carry out our jobs, helping deliver a programme of world-class science in this remote environment.

Our water supply comes mostly in the form of rain water, which is collected off the roof into a large holding tank, from where it is filtered to make it safe to drink. Electricity is provided from large diesel-powered generators that we shut down every night (operating essentials overnight on battery power) and start up first thing in the morning.

We have two labs, one for 'wet' work (animal handling etc.) and one for 'dry' (microscopes etc.). The office is large and warm and is a nice place to retire to after a day on the hill. Internet and telephone service comes over a VSAT satellite link with a company based in Aberdeen, and means that our phones here have UK numbers and are in effect merely extensions on the BAS internal phone system in Cambridge. This makes inter-base communication very cheap and easy indeed. The internet connection isn't fast, but is adequate for most things, and during quiet periods it is possible to listen to radio stations streamed over the internet.

Communication around base is with handheld marine VHF radios, and with a VHF repeater on top of one of the hills, we get good coverage over all the island. We also have Iridium satellite phones for emergencies.

Food is supplied twice a year, once at the start of the summer season (November) and once before we go into winter (April). There is a large range of very good food that is sent in, including many spices and herbs for making cooking more interesting, and a large selection of chocolate, essential for snacking whilst out doing fieldwork in cold weather! Of course, the quality of the meals we eat depends not only on the ingredients, but upon the various talents of the 'chef du jour'! The cook of the day makes the daily bread, and the variety of loaves produced ranges from huge wholemeal bloomers to skinny crunchy baguettes! On special occasions the chef will produce a culinary treat, for example mince pies at Christmas time, hot cross buns at Easter and birthday cakes!

The situation with alcohol relies upon trust that we will not abuse it. Other BAS bases have a 'two can rule' which states that base members have to stick to a limit of two cans of beer (or glasses of wine, etc. etc.) per night. We do not have this on Bird Island - but we are expected to limit our consumption to the point where we are never going to be a liability in an emergency situation. Having said that, Saturday nights tend to be our 'party night' and a nice time to let our hair down a little.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

20.03.2008 - February and March

Bird Island, map from Google Earth

The tall ship (barque) Europa, seen from the cliffs 19.03.2008

Wilsons storm petrels dance on the water whilst feeding

The first snow of winter, 20.03.2008

Don searching for untagged puppies at SSB, early March

Another happy customer

The second half of the summer has been action packed, although not with the same intensity of November and December. Don and I have been deploying tiny geolocator devices on young male fur seals, and more recently on adult females, to find out where they go during the winter. All the male seals have gone and only females and pups remain, the mums returning for a few days at a time to feed their pups, and then go back to sea to feed themselves. They are looking noticeably healthier now that they have put a bit of weight back on after giving birth around Christmas time.

The wandering albatross chicks are hatching too. They will remain with us through til November or December when they will finally leave, so it will be nice to see them grow throughout the winter as their parents return now and again to feed them. The census at the end of January revealed the highest number of breeding birds around the island for a few years, although nothing to get really excited about as they are still threatened by accidental drowning on fishing gear whilst feeding all around the Southern Ocean.

Robin, Claire and Helen left mid-February on the RRS James Clark Ross, and it was sad to see them go, but it was nice to be down to a team of seven for a while. The arrival of Chris Martin, a plumber coming in to do some project work, at the beginning of March has pushed our current number up to eight, which is a good, comfortable number. Any more and it starts to feel a little crowded, which is great socially, but for living and working can be a little intense. It is not so bad when you are used to a boarding house of fifty boys though, and I think I could cope with anything!

20.03.2008 - Wendy the fur seal

Fur seals are aggressive animals. During the breeding season, they put several routes around the island (namely along the beaches) out of action, because entering into the territories of breeding males is very dangerous, and in these numbers, it would be practically impossible. We carry sticks at all times during the summer months, not as a weapon, but more for our own protection. Banging on the ground with the stick (known as a bodger) or just tickling the seal's whiskers is often enough to get them to retreat.

There are around three million fur seals worldwide, 95% of them on South Georgia, and around sixty thousand of them return to Bird Island to breed. They are all angry and aggressive - all except for one. One exception amongst the crowds of seals that either run in fear, or stand their ground, growling and threatening, perhaps even chasing you.

This one seal has been coming back to Bird Island for around eight years now, and is known to Bird Islanders as Wendy. Although she cannot be trusted fully, Wendy is friendly and almost tame. She is an adult female fur seal. She chases away other seals, as if to defend her human friends. She doesn't bite, although will latch on to clothing to prevent you leaving her! She loves having her tummy scratched and will even let you play with her ears.

She appears not to have had a pup for several years now, possibly due to her complete madness! But she does seem in good health, with a lovely fur coat and no awful injuries. Meeting Wendy is quite surreal, and it takes some adjusting after leaving her, to remember that not all fur seals are as friendly as her.