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Mar 14 - Circuit training!

Date: 14th March 2004

Noon Position: Noon position lat 53 56.0 S long 40 55.3 W (102 nautical miles from Bird Island)
Distance Travelled since Immingham: 22625 Nautical Miles
Air temperature: 5.1 degrees C
Sea temperature: 4.4 degrees C

The JCR this Week.

JCR 100 is now in full swing, with fishing of all kinds, CTD stations, underway water sampling and wildlife surveys. This week we were also pleased to welcome back Jo Cox who will sail with us as 3rd officer, while Paul Clarke does a further stint at college.

We also found time this week to make a call into Bird Island, to drop off Simon Berry, a scaffolder who is there to assist with the rebuild of the seal study beach platform. There was also a request for a few supplies and some unusual cargo to be delivered (more on that later). We have had endless birthday celebrations as well, with no less than 5 birthdays, and more to come this week.

The first few days away from Stanley we had the sort of weather which sorts out the sailors from the non-sailors, puts a stop to work and makes everyone a little fractious through lack of sleep and bouncing around the corridors. Thankfully the weather has now settled and we have been able to eat soup safely, to work and most importantly (for me), to sleep.

 Photo by Johnnie Edmonston. Click to enlarge Dave must be driving again! Click to enlarge.

As ever, at the start of a new cruise, everyone is required to participate in a lifeboat drill. This serves as a reminder for the crew of the procedure in the event of an emergency, and is necessary for scientists and others who may not have sailed with us before. All new personnel are required to get into immersion suits and life jackets and are then shown the lifeboats and the procedure for strapping themselves into them.

Jose Xavier, photo by Pete Enderlein. Click to enlarge Photo by Pete Enderlein. Click to enlarge

Jose Xavier is called on to demonstrate.
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The BAS bioscientists follow his lead.
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Bird Island

There were a few good reasons for our trip to Bird Island. First and foremost, they had run out of baking powder and their cake baking and consumption was being curtailed. In addition to baking powder, we also had a cargo of albatross to deliver. These birds had been caught in fishing nets, frozen and taken to the fisheries authorities in Stanley, to be delivered to Bird Island for investigation. These casualties are an important source of information to the scientists who perform post-mortem examinations to work out why and how they were killed. The decline in albatross populations is well documented and there is currently a lot of work being undertaken to highlight the problem and try and prevent it.

We also "delivered" Simon Berry, a scaffolder, who will join Monkey (Neil Farnell) on Bird Island, in reconstructing the seal study area. This is a raised walkway on one of the main beaches, where "seal lady", Sarah Robinson, spends many happy hours observing the seals from relative safety. Simon has been with us on the JCR since Stanley and leaves us now for a month or more on the island.

 Ice bergs. Click to enlarge There's an island in there! Click to enlarge.

The journey into the island was circuitous. The bay was choked with icebergs and we could find no way in for the ship. So we detoured around the Willis Islands, to Elsehul on South Georgia. From here, we took small boats in, through the ice in Bird Sound, the narrow gap between the Bird Island and South Georgia. The ride was wet and bumpy but a spectacular way to travel. Instead of traffic lights and roundabouts, our obstacles were fur seals, kelp and icebergs! We dribbled our way in and around these, to tie up alongside the small jetty where Maggie, Sarah, Chris and a hundred fur seal pups were waiting for us.

Dave and Simon. Click to enlarge Puppy, photo by Mike Goldstein. Click to enlarge

Dave King drives Simon into Bird Island.
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A puppy showing off his new sleek look.
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The base at Bird Island was warm and cosy as ever but still surrounded by small grey balls of aggression. The pups are growing by the day and all have a sleek new coat since their recent moult. They are still far too small to be able to back up their ferocious growls with any serious intent but it doesn't stop them trying! However, they remain curious as ever and manage to squeeze through any doors left even slightly open, with lightening speed. Sarah tell us it is time to weigh and measure them again and she expects at least a few to weigh in at 40 kg (6 1/2 stone) already!

Science Bit In The Middle.

The major science objectives of this cruise are to study the distribution of myctophid fish in the South Georgia area and relate this to seal and penguin feeding patterns. As part of this, Kate Cresswell and Andy Black are on board to record the numbers of birds and marine mammals in the area. Their roles are explained below.

Seal Observations
by Kate Cresswell

My job on the ship is to count fur seals. It's pretty much as simple as it sounds, as I explain to the guys who relieve me for an hour at a time during the day. I stand on the Monkey Island, right at the top of the ship, directly above the bridge in fact, so I must be careful not to stomp around too much or sing too loudly.

"Fur seals are easy to spot." says Andy Black, a well experienced observer, recording all sorts of wildlife from his slightly more sheltered, less hard-core position on the bridge wing. I started doubting this statement after about half an hour of staring hard at the sea, and no seals.

A whole day of no seals, and I was starting to worry about my eyes. Luckily, the approach of the eastern end of the transect, bringing us closer to Bird Island (see map), brought with it a mass of seals, icebergs, albatross and macaroni penguins.

 Course of JCR. Click to enlarge

Course of the JCR (green) and the planned route (orange). The "wobbles" are where the ship has had to deviate to avoid icebergs. South Georgia and Bird Island are in the bottom right corner of the image, and the track of the JCR around the north of Bird Island, into Elsehul, can clearly be seen. Click to enlarge.

Well, Andy was right, they are pretty unmistakable in the water. I usually spot them when they stick their heads out of the water, turning to look up at the ship. You can almost see the expression marking the realisation that a big red ship is about to run them over, although they deal with this information in a cool manner, gracefully looping out of the way and on with their business.

The data we collect on fur seal distribution will be combined with satellite locations collected from a number of female seals based at Bird Island, to give an idea of their at-sea distribution in relation to that of one of their major prey types, myctophid fish, the main target of this cruise. All said, I quite enjoy my position at the top of the ship, looking out to sea, braving the weather, counting some seals, not a bad job really.

Kate. Click to enlarge Andy Black. Click to enlarge

Kate Cresswell, counting seals.
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Andy Black counts the birds.
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Bird Observations.

Andy Black is our resident hitch-hiker for this trip. He usually works for Falkland Islands Conservation and is currently engaged in a two year long project, funded by South Georgia Government, to survey the sea-birds and marine mammals in the South Georgia area. Like Kate, he spends the daylight hours outside, watching the area in front and to the sides of the ship, counting all of the birds and marine mammals that he sees. He records them, by species, every minute.

Andy usually works on the Fisheries Patrol vessels, Sigma and Dorada, and his work is year-round. On days like today, with mist and fog all around, it is difficult to spot the birds and virtually impossible to see any whales. However, on bright, sunny days, when the visibility is good, his has to be one of the best jobs on the ship, as he sees the sperm whales, the hourglass dolphins, the wandering albatross, the storm petrels.......

Kate also says at this point: perhaps I should mention that Andy stands out on the bridge wing from dawn til dusk, whilst we brave one-hour shifts, followed by a rest and some tea. Maybe he is a bit more hard-core after all!

Ship life.

The ship being only 100 metres long and 18 metres wide, there is not a lot of space for exercise. However, this doesn't stop us. There is a small gym, built considerately low down in the ship where the motion is felt least. This also means that, as you exercise, you can hear the gentle pinging of the ship's echosounders. This is a noise a little like the chirrup of beetles or crickets, the sort of noise I associate with warm summer evenings on holiday, rather than working up a sweat on an Antarctic research ship.....

More popular than the gym for some, are Rich Turner's circuit training sessions. These are held, weather permitting, three times a week, in the largest of our cargo holds. At this time of the season, the holds are almost empty, as we have discharged all of our cargo to the bases.

Circuits. Click to enlarge Circuits. Click to enlarge

Warming up for circuits.
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Circuits in full swing.
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A final thought ...

JCR at Elsehul. Click to enlarge

Home sweet home.
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Next week...... some fishy tales.