Archive for February, 2010

GPS Tracking – Fortuna Bay and Hercules Bay

February 25th, 2010 at 6:34 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

This morning found us back at Fortuna Bay where we visited a vast plain filled with fur seals, King penguins, and reindeer, but again under overcast skies with a fine mist. We moved to the sheltered harbor of Hercules Bay in the afternoon and saw our first Macaroni penguin colonies.

Not enough energy to do up a full blog post on either of these yet – maybe on Saturday while we’re at sea all day.

In the meantime, below is our GPS track, which started in Stromness last night, and ends in Rosita Harbour tonight.

 

GPS Tracking – Jason Harbour to Stromness via Fortuna Bay

February 24th, 2010 at 8:14 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Another snowy day here in sub-Antarctic paradise. We started our day in Jason Harbor with a landing (see other post), and then headed off to Fortuna Bay after lunch to drop off folks who wanted to hike the last few miles of Shackleton’s trail to Stromness. None of The Traveling Richters felt like exerting themselves quite that much, so we stayed on board and instead made landfall at Stromness, the location of another old deserted whaling station and the place where Shackleton finally reconnected with civilization back in 1916.

We’re staying in the waters of Stromness tonight and then heading back to Fortuna Bay in the morning for more exploration.

Our GPS track is below:

 

Wild Reindeer and More in the Sub-Antarctic

February 24th, 2010 at 8:13 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We anchored last night in the protected and calm waters of Jason Harbour (or maybe it’s “Jason Harbor”?). Wet snow was once again companion – it had started snowing last night, and had not let up much since.

From our balcony, which faced our anticipated landing spot, we could see penguins (King penguins mostly), fur seals, and off in the distance, a herd of about 15-20 reindeer.

Part of the herd of reindeer we saw this morning - note a couple of bucks still have dangling bits of velvet on their antlers

Part of the herd of reindeer we saw this morning - note a couple of bucks still have dangling bits of velvet on their antlers

Reindeer were introduced to South Georgia several times between 1911 and 1925 – only a couple of dozen total, but they have ultimately thrived, and it’s estimated that there are around 2,000 reindeer now spread throughout South Georgia. They are perhaps among the most destructive introduced species on the island, as they destroy young vegetation as well as certain lichens and herbs that would otherwise flourish. Their diet ultimately also causes soil erosion, which leads to other issues in the ecosystem.

After landing, we followed one of our naturalists, Steve MacLean, through the bogs lining the shoreline towards a large ridge inland. There we caught our first close glimpse of reindeer.

The interesting thing to observe was the interaction between the reindeer and fur seals, where at one point they would simply be hanging out harmoniously (or apparently so), and then some rambunctious male fur seal would take it upon himself to charge at the reindeer and scatter them off. It may not be obvious from their physique, but fur seals can run outrun a running man, so they are also able to give reindeer a good chase.

Fur seals chase reindeer out of their perceived territory

Fur seals chase reindeer out of their perceived territory

Steve also explained how antlers grow, in contrast to horns. Horns last a lifetime, whereas antlers are seasonal – they are cast off at the end of the summer and regrown anew starting in the spring. During growth, antlers are covered by a skin called “velvet” (due to its texture). Velvet is filled with blood vessels which help feed the growth of the antlers (which are effectively bone). Once full antler growth is achieved, the velvet ends up coming off – either by getting old and drying and falling off or during fights between reindeer. Notably, reindeer of both sexes grow antlers.

And, as luck would have it, we saw two reindeer bucks, both with tattered velvet hanging from their antlers, get into a tussle, and that caused a large piece of velvet to get ripped off. After the reindeer had moved on, we found the velvet – pretty amazing stuff.

A piece of freshly discarded velvet with blood vessels and tissue showing

A piece of freshly discarded velvet with blood vessels and tissue showing

And near the velvet was a skeleton of a reindeer, which Steve estimated to be about two years old based on the fact that cartilage was still in place in a couple of the joints as well as the wear on the teeth in the jaw bones we found. Also, because the skeleton had a full rack (antlers), it probably died in about the same time of year as now – the end of the southern summer.

The skeleton of the reindeer buck we found

The skeleton of the reindeer buck we found

Steve also showed us the teeth in the jawbone, which are multi-layered, and in reindeer they do not continue to grow after maturity.

The tops of the teeth in the reindeer jaw bone we found - note the multiple=

The tops of the teeth in the reindeer jaw bone we found - note the multiple layers of enamel and dentin

Moving on, we came across a number of elephant seals, including a group of young males molting, a much larger male by himself, and a “weanie” – an elephant seal pup that has been recently weaned. They all had large doleful, almost alien, eyes, which Steve indicated was the result of their need to be able to see with even the smallest bit of ambient light at the extreme depths that they typically dive at to find food.

A group of elephant seals during their molting phase

A group of elephant seals during their molting phase

An elephant seal 'weanie'

An elephant seal 'weanie'

We ended our walk along the beach, where a large variety of kelp had washed up, and some King penguins could also be found.

A pair of King penguins bids us adieu

A pair of King penguins bids us adieu

We considered the morning to a splendid one – full of discovery and enlightenment, even though all of our outer clothing was thoroughly soaked from the never ending wet snow.

More photos as well as larger versions of the ones above can be found in my Flickr pages.

 

Are King Penguin Chicks Ugly or Aliens?

February 23rd, 2010 at 10:04 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Not included in the previous set of King penguin images is one of an adult King penguin with it’s baby chick still nestled in the brood pouch. I have included it below. For a creature which ends up as beautiful as a King penguin, the tiny chicks are downright ugly, as you can see.

A King penguin with its chick, just emerged from the brood pouch

A King penguin with its chick, just emerged from the brood pouch

When we all looked at the image in detail here aboard the ship, we noticed a remarkable resemblance between the chick and one of our favorite TV villains – Davros, the commander of the evil Daleks on the Dr. Who television series.

Davros - Leader of the evil Daleks on the Dr. Who television series from the BBC

Davros - Leader of the evil Daleks on the Dr. Who television series from the BBC)

So, King penguin chick – just ugly or a Davros clone? You decide.

(Davros image obtained from http://www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/content/image_galleries/galleries_davros_gallery.shtml)

 

King Penguin Paradise on Salisbury Plain

February 23rd, 2010 at 9:54 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

After two days of mostly overcast skies and moderate to heavy snow, it was a pleasure waking up this morning to find a clear day with sunny skies. Outside our cabin, in the water, we could see hundreds of King penguins swimming in the ocean, diving down for food, and making the water’s surface come alive.

After breakfast we were taken ashore at Salisbury Plain (see GPS tracking data in the previous post), where we encountered far more King penguins than we could count. In fact, the King penguin colony there was so large I felt the need to shoot a panoramic sequence. If you want to get a good idea of the sheer mass of penguin life, click on the image below to see a 12,112 pixel wide image of the penguin colony.

Panorama of King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, with expedition members

Panorama of King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain, South Georgia, with expedition members

King penguins are the second largest type of penguin in the world after Emperor penguins, and unlike the other penguins we have seen so far, they breed year round. Also, they don’t feed on krill – instead they eat lantern fish and squid. Thus, their guano piles are brown and muddy looking instead of pink like that of the krill eating penguins like the Adelie, Gentoo, and Chinstrap penguins.

The Salisbury Plain area is a beautiful area - with snow covered mountains and verdant plains - and King penguins

The Salisbury Plain area is a beautiful area - with snow covered mountains and verdant plains - and King penguins

A King penguin getting comfortable atop a tussock grass mound

A King penguin getting comfortable atop a tussock grass mound

Because the King penguins breed year round, we saw some penguins with eggs, others with tiny chicks, big fluffy penguin chicks who no longer needed immediate protection, and even ones on the edge of adulthood.

This penguin is checking on its egg, which it keeps in a brood pouch above its feet

This penguin is checking on its egg, which it keeps in a brood pouch above its feet

This young King penguin gives the phrase 'fat chick" a whole new meaning

This young King penguin gives the phrase 'fat chick\

A King penguin chick almost done losing its down en route to becoming an adult

A King penguin chick almost done losing its down en route to becoming an adult

Also, as another component of a non-seasonally driven breeding season we saw ample evidence of courtship behaviors.

A part of the King penguin courting rituals - also note the tongue visible on the left penguins

A part of the King penguin courting rituals - also note the tongue visible on the left penguins

A tender moment between a nesting pair of King penguins

A tender moment between a nesting pair of King penguins

Mating between King penguins is quick, and if it works results in a single fertilized egg

Mating between King penguins is quick, and if it works results in a single fertilized egg

All in all, the two hours we spent at Salisbury Plain did not seem to be nearly enough, but we’re so glad we had the opportunity to see these beautiful creatures in their native habitat.

Coming out of the ocean after feeding, this King penguin still has water droplets on its feathers

Coming out of the ocean after feeding, this King penguin still has water droplets on its feathers

Larger versions of all of the above images can be found on my Flickr pages.

 

GPS Tracking – Grytviken to Salisbury Plain to Jason Harbour

February 23rd, 2010 at 8:44 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We’re anchored in Jason Harbour tonight after our beautiful day at Salisbury Plain to see the King Penguin colony there and then Prion Island to see the nesting place of the world’s largest flying bird, the Wandering Albatross.

GPS tracking details are below: