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Signy Island Diary — February 2010

February 2010 started off with a distinct end to the summer weather! Snow fall and temperatures failing to reach anything resembling a summer day in Wales prevent the snow from now melting and it looks as if winter is well on its way.

The wildlife here at Signy has been abundant during February. Most of the smaller Elephant seals finished their annual moult and headed into the sea to replenish fat stocks used up having spent the last month lying around the base and behaving in a manner that can be explained as no less than slobbish.

Moulting Elephant seal (Photo: A Webb)
Moulting Elephant seal (Photo: A Webb)

The middle of February saw the return of the larger Elephant seals who are now here to shed their skin. The larger Elephant seals seem to shed their skin a little later; this may be due to them breeding up until much later in the season.

The Fur seal population boomed in February. The annual ‘Seal count’ is always carried out in this month and requires all personnel to walk the entire Island counting every single seal. This count is mainly for Fur seals and is part of ongoing science investigations into the population of the seals after they were heavily hunted in the 18th and 19th century by the US and the UK. Previous figures estimated we would have around 12,000 Fur seals on the Island. This year over 20,000 were recorded which is phenomenal and suggests the population is increasing in numbers every year.

All of the Adélie and Gentoo penguins have now finished fledging. The final Penguins to leave the nest are the Chinstraps. Mike, our resident penguin genius now makes regular visits to Gourlay and the Chinstrap breading colonies to weight these chicks as they begin their mass exodus into the sea.

A rare visit by a Royal Navel vessel took place at the beginning of the month when the HMS Scott briefly anchored and sent over around 15 visitors in total for a tour of base and a quick look at some of the nearby attractions of Factory Cove. One of the crew members was an artist who had obtained a grant through the Scott Polar research centre in Cambridge. She was able to capture some quick paintings of the base from the Back slope above the base in rather poor weather.

The ship brought a welcome bag of post for some and a much needed technical component for one of the fire alarm systems on the base.

'Now where did we park?' HMS Scott Rescue boat (Photo: Tony Clements)
'Now where did we park?' HMS Scott Rescue boat (Photo: Tony Clements)

Dirk was to leave on the Scott after a very long and tiring season. He returns back to Cambridge to prepare for the following season. There is now a void where once there was a Dirk and Mike regularly requires the help of base personnel to carry out his tasks. This is taken in turn by base members and gives us all a break from the manic technical season we have had at Signy this year.

Talking of technical projects, February saw the demolishment of the Hazardous chemical store. Changes in Science needs, procedures and as Signy is now a summer only base meant a simpler store was needed for the storage of Hazardous chemicals, paints and such like.

Our second old generator was removed from the generator building and the floors were painted which marked the completion of the generator replacements project.

More fuel line was replaced from the boiler fuel tank to the boiler room. Due to the environment here at Signy every task which would seem to be simple at home is much more complex. All of our fuel lines are installed using steel pipeline, this is then wrapped with an electric heat tracing line which can be turned on during the cold periods at the start of the season to prevent the fuel waxing at negative temperatures. The pipeline is then covered in high quality insulation and finally heavy duty boxing is fabricated around the pipe work for protection from animals, cold and to stop any water penetration.

Commemorative crosses at Cemetery Flats (Photo: A. Webb)
Commemorative crosses at Cemetery Flats (Photo: A. Webb)

The final day of February fell on a Sunday which prompted Gerry, Tony and I to go for an afternoon bimble in the hills. We headed up the Backslope to Observation point, across to Green Gable then finished at Rusty Bluff for a KitKat and can of Fiery Ginger Beer! Then it was back to base for a traditional Roast Beef joint.

Written by
Andrew Webb – Islands Facilities Engineer