Royal Marines and King Penguin Chicks!

This entry is part 25 of 47 in the series British Antarctic Survey
Rainbow at penguin river
Rainbow at Penguin River

What a few weeks! As per usual they have been hectic, but amazing. We were incredibly lucky to be visited by members of the Royal Marines and Navy, who were part of the Antarctic Endurance Expedition team retracing Sir Ernest Shackleton’s footsteps through South Georgia and the Antarctic in 1914-17.

By the time the team reached us, they were on the final leg of their journey, having just completed the four day hike across South Georgia, which Shackleton had crossed 100 years previously to get help for his crew, who were stranded. They had travelled over 3000 miles across some of the most dangerous seas in the world.

Xplore - the yacht used by the team of Royal Marines and Navy personnel
Xplore – the yacht used by the team of Royal Marines and Navy personnel

The team immediately clocked our football pitch on arrival and challenged us to a game at the world famous South Georgia National Football Stadium, an incredibly brave move, considering that we have never lost a match here (we’ve only played one!)

Having been soaked through to the skin by a well-timed South Georgian shower during the national anthems, the game eventually kicked off with the away team kicking down into the bog. With the tempo and quality of play reaching levels never seen before on this famous footballing island, the bog provided players with much appreciated rests.

The spectators, all two of them, were so taken away with what they were seeing, they had to remove themselves from the stadium before they got too carried away! I would like to say that when a game of such beauty and skill as this takes place, the score doesn’t matter, only football is the winner and lots of other clichés, but it’s not every day you get to smash Her Majesty’s finest 6-0 on your your home ground!


South Georgia National Football Stadium
South Georgia National Football Stadium – don’t let the appearance of the pitch/players fool you, the standard was sometimes comparable with Brazil (Picture by Sub Lieutenant Emily Kutarski)

Although maybe not footballers, our opponents comprised a group of incredible people and it’s no wonder their mission had been so successful.


With the breeding season winding down now, my time has freed up fractionally, meaning I have had a few hours around work to spend time with and appreciate the amazing wildlife and landscape on our front door.

South Georgia Sunrise
South Georgia sunrise from my window

With the king penguins around base now having completed their moult, they are beginning to look quite spectacular. On a rare, bright, still evening, I got myself out with my camera onto the beach and spent a bit of time observing a small group. Every now and then it really hits me how ridiculously privileged I am to be here!

The group had two pairs amongst them who were posturing and calling to each other – I could have watched these majestic animals for hours. However, just because the sun was out, it doesn’t mean it was warm and it wasn’t long before my hands had turned blue and the kettle was calling.

King Penguins posturing in to each other in front of base
King Penguins posturing to each other in front of base
Group of king penguins in front of the South Georgia mountains
Group of king penguins in front of the South Georgia mountains

With scientific work easing slightly, I have also had more time to crew and cox our RIBs and jet boats. Having spent a lot of time on board powerboats before the RIB training, they weren’t too much of a challenge but getting my head around jet boats is another completely different challenge. A challenge which I am loving, I have to say, since it means I get to see more of the island and spend time at sea.

And when you’re on board either sort of boat, you’re never too far from beautiful scenery…

Lyelly glacier from the jet boat during boating activities
Lyelly glacier from the jet boat


Neumayer glacier from the jet boat
Neumayer glacier from the jet boat

Incidentally, we do have a small breeding colony of King Penguins accessible to us by foot near King Edward Point at the aptly named Penguin River. Due to the small size of the colony, breeding isn’t often successful, unfortunately. However, on a visit this week, I was happy to find eight new chicks ready to give it a go.

First king penguin chicks at penguin river
First king penguin chicks at Penguin River

All the chicks and their parents seemed healthy and were in full voice throughout my visit despite the poor conditions and I was incredibly happy to see the adults regularly feeding their demanding chicks.

King penguin chicks are being fed well
King penguin chicks are being fed well



Farne Islands Winter Work

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Farne Islands

 Grey Seal Pup

Wardens spend the last 3 months of the year immersed within the seal colonies. Since the last visitors land on the islands at the end of September, some might consider that this gives wardens a degree of freedom. However the departure of the last visitor boats coincides with the more extreme seas and as a result the small speedboats belonging to us are limited to small sheltered trips between islands, leaving wardens cut off from the mainland. Wardens rely on larger boats to drop off supplies of, drinking water and gas and utilise every day of flat sea to pick up supplies and grab a quick shower. It is not uncommon that these flat sea days are separated by weeks. Unfortunately these showerless spells overlap with the most intense and physically demanding workload and as a result the seals must cope with smelly wardens.

The grey seal population on the Farne Islands is the longest studied in the world. Wardens enter the colonies, which are mainly spread around the outer group of islands, in order to study population trends and pup survival rate. Every time we enter the colony, we spray the back fins of the newly born seals with a coloured dye, taking note of how many we have sprayed. We then return with a different colour, a few days later, and note how many newborns there are, whilst also counting how many of the first coloured pups are remaining. Since the pups moult their fur prior to entering the sea for the first time, the dye does not affect these animals.

Sounds simple! Seals breed across the outer groups at very high densities with over 1500 pups been born annually. It is necessary to get very close to animals when spraying them in order to ensure only the hind fins are sprayed. Along with the fact that female seals can be very protective of their pups this makes life very tricky for wardens. It is especially important that great care is taken during this work for many reasons. Firstly if you fall or a seal bites you and the weather is bad you’re going to need the help of the RNLI to get you back to mainland. As well as the obvious risks of being bitten by seals (it really hurts), seals carry a form of bacteria in their mouths which can be very harmful to human flesh, causing it to rot. Historically the treatment for seal finger was amputation. It is now much easier to treat but still much better to avoid.


Close Up Picture Of A Bull Seal

Another part of our work which wardens would rather not have to carry out is the removal of marine debris from these incredible animals. With all the animals coming up onto the tops of the islands you start to notice various items caught around the necks of the seals. Such examples are, fishing line which people have cut loose, lobster pots that fishermen have cut lose and marine debris such as the millions of balloons that are released annually ending up in the seas. It is especially important with growing animals (young seals and pregnant cows) that this is removed as soon as possible in order to prevent suffocation and reduce the damage to skin. See below for one unfortunate young seal whom had managed to get caught with a balloon and its associated ribbon around its neck. Fortunately, with the help of the SMRU, we were able to catch this individual remove the balloon and release it successfully but not all these stories have happy endings.

Injured seal which had a balloon caught around its neck
Injured seal which had a balloon caught around its neck
The Balloon and thread which we successfully removed from the seals neck
The Balloon and thread which we successfully removed from the seals neck

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