history   nature   visitors   images  gamezone   explore    government   

The Island
News and Events
South Georgia Museum
Realities of Fishing
Discovery House
Search sgisland.org



   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter June 2005

(To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here)

Very Rare Giant Squid Caught Alive

The Colossal Squid is caught by longliner Isla Santa Clara. Photo by Ramon Ferreira Gomez.

The head and tentacles of the squid, the vast mantle could not be bought on board. Photo: Ramon Ferreira Gomez

A very rare Giant Squid was caught alive by one of the long-lining vessels fishing in South Georgia waters on June 25th. The animal was caught on a number of hooks on a longline that had been set at a depth of 1625 metres to target Patagonian Toothfish. The squid was hauled to the surface when the line was recovered, and five men, including the ships scientific observer, then struggled to bring the vast squid aboard the boat. The observer, Paul McCarthy, estimates the complete animal was about five metres long and weighed 150 to 200 kg.

Only a very few specimens of Giant Squid have ever been found, mostly in the stomachs of Sperm Whales. There are two main types of Giant Squid, and this one is thought to be the rarer and possibly bigger of the two, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, known as the Colossal Squid.

Squid specialist Dr Martin Collins said, ”There are no verified records of an adult Colossal Squid having ever been caught alive before, but we’ve caught small, juvenile Mesonychoteuthis less than 5cm long in nets around South Georgia. Until now our knowledge of the large adults has been from beaks in the stomachs of predators such as toothfish, albatross and sperm whales, so catching a large adult is very exciting.”

One of the few previous examples of this extraordinary animal was found dead last year floating in the Ross Sea, and excited international interest. According to a report on the BBC website about the Ross Sea find, the Colossal Squid was first identified in 1925 when two squid arms were recovered from a sperm whale’s stomach. The squid has one of the largest beaks known of any squid and also has unique swivelling hooks on the clubs at the end of its tentacles, which may allow it to attack and eat the Patagonian Toothfish.

It has even been suggested the adult squid may attack Sperm Whales, though it is perhaps more likely they would be defending themselves.

Samples from the South Georgia Colossal Squid will help scientists learn more about these elusive animals. Unfortunately, due to the mass of the animal, it was not possible to collect the entire specimen. Samples, including the tentacles, clubs, head and beak will be brought to the King Edward Point (KEP) Scientists for formal identification, the samples may then be sent to the Natural History Museum in England.


Massive Stash of Explosives at Godthul

A massive stash of explosives was discovered when an EOD (Explosives and Ordinance Disposal) team opened the old tank at Godthul whaling depot earlier this month. The original find was reported in last month’s newsletter and was known to include at least one box of Gelignite sticks, but the final list of explosives stored in the tank was a staggering: 3.5 tonnes of gunpowder; 2 boxes of gelignite; 50 flash detonators; 3 boxes of gunpowder booster bags; 20 rolls of safety fuse and other explosive items including explosive bolts and propellant.
  The EOD team prepare the explosives ready to dispose of them in a controlled explosion. Photo by Ken Passfield

Some of the articles were wrapped in newspaper dated 1929, confirming that the explosives had been left from when the Godthul whaling operation stopped.

All the explosives were successfully disposed of. A full report, written by Government Officer Ken Passfield, who accompanied the EOD, is at the end of this newsletter.


Visit from “HMS Portland”

Royal Navy vessel “HMS Portland” called at South Georgia in early June. The ship had embarked members of the Falkland Island Resident Infantry Company (RIC) to undertake land patrols, and six members of the EOD to deal with the explosives find at Godthul.

Poor weather hampered the ship’s plans to land the EOD team by sea on their way in to the Island, but improved in the next days so work plans were successfully completed and an airdrop by C130 Hercules could go ahead.

HMS Portland anchored in Cumberland Bay.

Almost all the ship’s company were able to stretch their legs over the two days the ship anchored in Cumberland Bay East (CBE), most taking the opportunity to visit Shackleton’s grave and the South Georgia Museum. There was just enough snow in patches on the hillside above Grytviken for the more sporting to go sledging on black bin liners.

Despite there only being 12 South Georgia residents, three different parties were underway on shore on the last night of the ship’s call to entertain the visitors.


Fishing News

Catches in the toothfish fishery continue to be good, and in these days of heightened interest in bird, especially albatross, mortality associated with long-line fishing elsewhere in the world, the South Georgia fishery continues to lead the way with not one record of birds being caught so far this season. This remarkable achievement is the result of vessels strictly abiding by the requirements to use tried and tested mitigation measures.

The toothfish vessels have started going to the Falklands for mid-season transhipments and bunkering. Some vessels this year are participating in a scheme to ensure their catch is traceable from hook to table. Each box of fish receives an individual barcode that is scanned and recorded in Stanley when it is unloaded. These barcodes can then follow the fish up to the point of sale to the consumer, who can be assured they are eating legally caught toothfish, from a well-managed stock with little or no danger to albatross. Fish that are traced in such a way will be marked with the logo of the Marine Stewardship Council (www.msc.org).

The first of the toothfish sub-areas has been closed. The whole zone was divided up into several management sub-areas for the first time this season. Each sub-area has its own total allowable catch (TAC), in this way fishing effort can be spread more evenly throughout the zone. Once the TAC for a sub-area is taken, the area is closed to further fishing this season. The sub-areas also aid future management as a number of toothfish are tagged and returned during the fishing season. Later recapture of these tagged fish is an increasingly important tool to assess the stock of fish. Having a separate TAC for each sub-area assists the spread of tagging effort throughout the fishery.

Two krill observers arrived earlier in the month and were quickly deployed onto krill trawlers. The krill catches continue to be good with 5 krill vessels remaining in the zone. One vessel, “Acamar”, will not return. The vessel, built in 1990, has fished here for the past three years and in the Falkland Island fishery before that, but is now going to be scrapped. Several of the krill vessels came into Cumberland Bay during the month to tranship to reefers.

During a recent fishery patrol “FPV Dorada” did some acoustic transects looking for aggregations of Icefish in CBE. This was a follow up to finding a spawning Icefish in the Bay last month, (See last month’s newsletter). Scientists are hoping the data may provide more evidence for the theory that the Cumberland Bay area is an important spawning ground for Mackerel Icefish.

Bird Islanders Move into their New Building

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) staff at Bird Island have moved into their new station building. BAS took possession of the building, which has not officially been named yet, on June 4th and the wintering Bird Islanders moved into the accommodation section of it a few days later.

The building project was only started in later January, to avoid the height of the Fur Seal breeding period, and has been finished on schedule. Most of the Morrisons FI Ltd building team were picked up on June 8th by the chartered vessel “FPV Dorada”, two remained for another two weeks fitting out the new laboratories.

The new research station is well insulated and has much improved accommodation, open plan office space, modern bathroom and kitchen facilities and a greatly improved animal handling area and wet laboratory.

After a very busy summer, the last two members of the building team were picked up on June 20th, leaving just the four strong BAS wintering team to start the move into the new laboratories.
The old accommodation building Prince House and Dorchester Hut will be removed next season. Becks House, the stores and workshops, will remain.


Do Haul Winches Sound Like a Dinner Gong to Whales?

Sperm Whales and Killer Whales can take Toothfish from fishermen’s long-lines, and some ships seem to attract the whales attention more than others, so what is the signal that lets the whales know when it is dinner time?

South Georgia waters are part of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Summer tourists excitedly crowd the decks of their expedition vessels when a whale is sighted, but the sight of Killer or Sperm whales from a toothfish vessel produces a very different reaction. Even if the whales are not seen, the fishermen often know which type of whale has been snacking. Killer Whales leave the Toothfish heads on the line but Sperm Whales only leave the lips.

Some long-line vessels, particularly the older ones and those that use a two-line system, seem to attract more whales than more modern auto-liners. The two-line system needs two winches to haul the line, the sound of which may call the whales in. In an attempt to verify this, and identify any other sound cues the whales might home in on, Michael Unwin and Paul McCarthy, both of whom work as scientific observers on long-line vessels in South Georgia waters, will be using hydrophones to record vessel noise.
Two specially designed hydrophones, which can be attached to the long-lines when they are set, and tolerate the great depths the lines sink to, arrived in the fishery in June. The acoustic work is just part of an ambitious project the two men have been running in recent years in collaboration with the Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG). They have noticed that a summer fishery for Icefish, close to winter toothfish grounds, does not seem to attract whales despite the winch noise hauling in trawl nets (that might be expected to excite the whales’ interest). If the acoustic sign that draws in whales to the plagued vessels can be identified, then the knowledge could be used to reduce the whale depredation, with obvious benefits for the fishery.

Of their acoustic research Michael said, “This is basically a world first and cutting edge research in terms of assessing long-line depredation. The work will hopefully provide insight to the full acoustical range of long-line vessels….It may also highlight other acoustic sources that may serve to attract marine mammals to long-lines. If we can remove these acoustic sources from the loop, maybe we can reduce depredation.”

The two researchers hope to progress further with their projects but need a larger source of funding. “We could do with the full backing of a larger company or research initiative.” Michael said, “As it stands, without interest from other parties the work will come to an end this year, only half completed. It’s a bit of a shame really.”

GSGSSI is very keen to see the project progress and are hopeful that industry will also recognise the benefits the work could have for the fishery and will be keen to work closely with the project in the future and assist with future funding.


Foul Play

With South Georgia’s history of whaling and shipping activity, it is not that unusual for vessels to foul their anchors on chains and other detritus on the bottom of the bays where they anchor, but one unlucky reefer, “Cooler Bay”, managed to pick up two heavy chains in only a few days. If the fouling chains cannot be dropped, and are too heavy for the ships winches to bring aboard, then getting rid of the chain takes ingenuity. In one instance a man had to be lowered over the side of the ship with cutting equipment to cut the fouling chain from the anchor.

Solving a foul problem. Photo by Captain Sergey Emelyanov

When any fouling of anchorages is reported, the information is passed to the UK Hydrographic Office so they can put out a warning to mariners and add the information to the charts.

For the second year in a row, long lining vessel Isla Santa Clara picked up an old whaling harpoon from the bottom of the sea. The ship would have been fishing in about 1000 meters depth of water when the old bent harpoon was caught in the longline and came up with the line when it was hauled.


Duncan Carse Archive at BAS

Following the death of South Georgia Survey leader Duncan Carse last year, and at Mrs Venetia Carse’s request, a huge mass of written records of the survey and several thousand colour transparencies, all catalogued, have been combined with the Survey’s mapping material, which was transferred from the Directorate of Overseas Surveys last year, to make a unique and complete archive of this important chapter in South Georgia’s history. The archives are stored in the British Antarctic Survey’s archives at Cambridge. (Source: South Georgia Association newsletter)


Oil Spill Response Exercise

At least twice a year, the residents of KEP perform an oil spill response exercise to practice for the eventuality of a real oil spill. The exercise is held in winter and summer to keep people aware of what sort of conditions they may be working in in a real situation.

Enough equipment to deal with a small oil spill is kept at KEP. The scenario held this month was a fuel line ruptured by the JCB.

When the alarm was raised, two people were quickly detailed to go and assess the situation and prevent more fuel from leaking. The rest gathered to be told what the scenario was and to be allocated a role in the practice. Protective clothing was worn and a boat was used to deploy an oil retention boom around the supposed spill, whilst pumping equipment and a special tank were put together ready for a clean up. The exercise was completed satisfactorily within an hour and a half.


Deploying the oil retention boom.

    Setting up the oils spill clean-up tank.


Alien Plant

The unidentified alien plant showing leaves, and two sections of the root system.

Whilst digging up Bittercress plants as part of an ongoing attempt to eradicate the invasive alien plant species Cardamine flexuosa from KEP, another alien plant was discovered.

Two of the plants were found close to each other. One was especially well established with a well developed tuberous root system. They were both dug up and will be carefully disposed of. As yet the plant remains unidentified.

If you know what it is please could you let us know by filling in the comments form here.


Midwinter Celebrations

The midwinter solstice on June 21st is celebrated in find style at both KEP and Bird Island.

A week of celebrations and holiday, as far as the science programme, visiting ships and general running of the station allowed, started for KEP on the night of Friday 17th. Snow fell that day, giving just enough for most people to get out on skis and snowboards during the holiday, but with scant snow, the ski season has not really got underway yet. The snow added to the Christmassy feel, as did the Christmas decorations that were put up, complete with tree, in the station lounge.

It is a fine tradition that the Base Commander make breakfast in bed for everyone else on midwinter’s morning, and everything from pancakes and chocolate croissants to a full English was on offer at KEP.

At Bird Island the four residents held the midwinter highland games in the afternoon, with events including the caber toss and target snowballing, followed by a nice walk up to the north-cliffs before returning with good appetites for a sumptuous meal and midwinter present giving.

The highland games competitors at Bird Island. Photo by Tommo.
Meanwhile at KEP nerves were evident as people anxiously watched the outside temperature rise from a chilling minus 8, to a balmy minus 6 by the time the midwinter swim came round at noon. With the water temperature at minus 2, and ice coating the beach and in slabs out in the water, eleven brave and daft folks raced into the water, then sprinted out, over the snow and into the sauna as fast as possible.

Intrepid midwinter bathers. Photo by Bernard Meehan.


By five in the afternoon everyone was wearing their smartest clothes and gathered for champagne cocktails before sitting to eat an eight-course dinner. The feast was interrupted after four starter courses to listen to the special midwinter broadcast that goes out on the BBC World Service to all the BAS employees. There is usually an impressive guest on the half hour show, and this year was no exception, comedian Ricky Gervais of “Office” fame made suitably offensive and disparaging comments about scientists in the Antarctic.





Dining in style on mid-winters evening.

Other events at KEP throughout the week included an Indian restaurant, pub quiz, a boat trip on a lovely morning to Greene Peninsula, and to end the week, the traditional pub crawl, with seven venues set up just for the night, ending in the “Dome nightclub” where we danced into the early hours inside the newly erected satellite dome. A planned game of extreme Poosticks had to be cancelled as all the streams and waterfalls were frozen solid!


Expedition Reports

New in the 'Expeditions' section are the reports for the 2004/5 season. Click here to see more.


South Georgia’s Plants at the University of Dundee Botanic Garden - Scotland

Gordon Liddle, Alistair Hood, and Elaine Shemilt inspecting the South Georgia garden

Greater Burnet

It was in November 2003, Dr Deirdre Galbraith a member of the 2003/4 BSES Expedition to South Georgia asked Dr Alastair Hood of the University of Dundee's Botanical Gardens if he would be interested in receiving the indigenous plants from the Island. The answer was yes, so in January 2004 David Nicholls the Expedition Leader arrived at the Garden with plants collected from their natural habitat in South Georgia. After potting up, inspection from the ‘man from the ministry’ and 6 months quarantine we were then at liberty to concentrate on getting these plants to grow.

The ferns consisting, Blechnum penna-marina (Small fern), Polystichum mohroides (Shield fern) and Cystopteris fragilis (Brittle bladder fern) have done very well and have all been divided and re potted.

The Opioglossum crotalophoroides (Adders tongue fern) has also been doing well and has been re potted but slugs continually seem to eat away at it. I am hoping the use of slug pellets will put a stop to this.

The flowering plants such as Acaena magellanica (Greater burnet) and Acaena tenera (Lesser burnet) have been doing very well and are still in the pots they were originally put into. They do look as if they could be slightly invasive in our climate!

The other flowering plants Callitrche antartica (Water starwort) Colobanthus subulatus (Water starwort), Montia Fontana (Water blinks) and Ranunculus biternatus (Antarctic buttercup) are also looking healthy.

We had a problem with the grasses from the outset as they were destroyed by ‘the man from the ministry’ as members of the grass family are not allowed to be brought into Europe (this being understandable). However David was back out in South Georgia earlier this year and managed to snatch a few seed heads from a few species. Of these the Parodiochloa flabellate (Tussac grass) is doing well in its seed pan and should soon be ready to divide.

So all in all the plants have done a lot better than expected.

In the meantime we have been preparing an area in the Garden for planting these plants into. The area has been excavated out a little lined with polythene and drip fed with water. All the soil has been put back along with rocks to try and recreate a small section of South Georgian landscape here in Dundee – as best as our imagination allows us. There is nothing like seeing plants in their natural environments to give one a better understanding of their culture. We have thus created an area that is constantly fed with water but has free draining and wet areas to accommodate the various requirements of the plants. As soon as the first flush of weeds have come up and removed we will plant some of the plants out.

This area is adjacent to our own native plants area and the two areas will make an interesting story when looking at how the plants from opposite ends of the planet have adapted to survive their hostile environments. Plant survival strategies being one of the main interests of the Gardens and its plant collections.


South Georgia Snippets

The stormy winter we have experienced so far this year continued during June, but at least there were enough days of clear sky to allow some gorgeous dawn lighting of the Allardyce Mountain range. The days are short so dawn is not until around eight in the morning, making the beautiful pink tops of the mountains a show everyone, not just early risers, can enjoy. The last direct rays of sun to fall on the Point were on June 6th, and will not return until the end of July, giving extra impetus for residents to walk round the bay, or get out on the boats into the sun away from the shadows of Mt Duse.

A small male Leopard Seal hauled out several days in a row in the whaling station at Grytviken, and a larger one came up at KEP on the 18th.

The Fur Seals and elephant Seals hauled up on the beaches look fat and well fed.

Skuas were seen on June 17th and 19th, well after we expected them all to have migrated.

Tim and Pauline Carr returned from a month away just in time to join in with the midwinter festivities.





The small maleLeopard Seal that hauled out at Grytviken.Photo by Jamie Watts

Dealing with the Explosives at Godthul (By Government Officer Ken Passfield)

Some of the explosives were blown up behind the tank where they were found. Photo by Ken Passfield

One of the tins the gunpowder was stored in. Photo by Ken Passfield

On Saturday June 4th, after a couple of false starts, we finally flew to Godthul by Lynx helicopter. Having been with BAS Field Assistant Paul Torode who discovered the gelignite in the tank at Easter, I had been itching ever since to find out what was inside. We had only been able to peer through a small hole that had rusted in the tank and see two boxes of gelignite and some unknown boxes at the back of the tank.

The only access to the tank was through a hatch bolted on the side. When the explosives had been sealed in the tank the hatch had been secured with four nuts. Without having any specialised cutting gear, the success of the whole operation was dependant on being able to undo these. Unbelievably, after 75 years in the open 20 yards from the sea, the nuts yielded to Greg Baker’s strength on the Stilsons wrench and undid (which shows the low humidity on this side of the Island)

Result! We levered off the hatch and peered inside – the moment of truth. We were greeted by a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of explosives all neatly stacked in place, presumably left behind at the end of a season with the intention of returning ‘one day.’ There turned out to be 3.5 tonnes of gunpowder in 10 kg tins, 2 boxes of gelignite and various other explosive items. It confirmed what we had been expecting, that the stuff was left behind from Godthul whaling depot’s last season of operation 1928/29, when we found some scraps of newspaper from a 1929 South African Farmers Weekly.

There was a natural depression in the peat about 100m up the hill from the tanks, which was where the boss John Dixon decided to blow the gelignite. It was decided to dump the gunpowder in the sea, where it dissolved and caused a lot less environmental impact than blowing it all up would have.
The tins of gunpowder had corroded and disintegrated when moved. Considering it was June, winter in South Georgia, we were surprised to work up a sweat. There was not a breath of wind and Godthul was bathed in sunlight.

The EOD boys did their stuff preparing the explosives and I scouted the area for wildlife that might be at risk. Being the middle of the day, the Gentoo Penguins were all out fishing and there were not many Fur Seals around. We retreated to a safe distance and after contacting KEP on our satellite phone to get them to inform the ship that we were ready and prepared. We lay in the sunshine and waited for the moment.

And off she went – a satisfying bang that echoed around the hillsides and a few clods of earth flying through the air. It flushed a few Pintail Ducks up, but the Fur Seals and King Penguins that were on the beach didn’t move an inch.

So – a top result – the place made safe with no damage to the historic integrity of the site, and no damage to the wildlife. The Lynx picked us up again and it was home for tea and medals. A big thanks to John Dixon, Greg Baker and the rest of the team



(To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here)

link to project atlantis homepage   >>Back to top This site and all text content is copyright 2001 Project Atlantis. Rights reserved for all images to respective copyright owner.