Since 2011, I have been spending November to April each year working for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) on Signy Island in the South Orkney Islands, Antarctica. I work as a Zoological Field Assistant on the penguin and seal long-term monitoring programme. Before this, I spent 2.5 years on the sub-Antarctic island of Bird Island, South Georgia, in the South Atlantic.
This blog gives readers an insight into my day-to-day life in the Antarctic, from my first trip south in 2008 to the present day.
As we’re now half way through the season, I’m well overdue
with writing on here.It’s been a pretty
busy season so far, and the combination of collecting data, entering it into
all the databases/spreadsheets, giving a hand to the visiting scientists, and
applying for summer jobs back in the UK, has given me little time for things
such as this.Our slow internet
connection means it can take the entire evening to put about 5 photos on
here.But, enough excuses...
Once the ship had left (way back at the start of December)
my first task was to set up my chinstrap and Adélie monitoring plots.This requires lugging 100 numbered bricks to
each colony and putting one at each nest.Anything smaller than a brick, and the penguins will steal each other’s
and move them around, which makes keeping track of them tricky!I
visit my 200 nests every 2 days throughout the breeding season and use them to
represent the species as a whole.So
basically, if all my chinstrap study nests have finished laying eggs, I can
assume that all the chinstraps on the island have laid too, and then know it is
time to do my counts.For each species
(Adelie and Chinstrap) I have large colonies around the island, and these will
get 3 counts (an egg count, a chick count and a fledging count) during the
season. I also do the same for the
Gentoo penguins.The colonies are
scattered around the island, which gives me lots of excuses to get out and
about all over the island.
So when people ask me what I do, and I say I count penguins,
it is strictly true.However, counting
penguins only takes up a small part of my time.I also do a similar thing for the Blue eyed shags and giant
petrels.I count the seals around the
base every 2 days, and later in the season count every single seal on the
island, I weigh the penguin chicks when they are ready to leave for the sea (to
see how healthy they are).I collect
penguin diet samples (vomit) and spend a lot of time in the lab sifting through
it, extracting krill and fish otoliths (ear bones) which I then study down the
microscope to see the age and sex of the krill and the species and size of fish.All of these tasks are part of Long Term
Monitoring and Survey (LTMS) work- this data has been collected for years at
Signy, and shows us long term trends in penguin/seal numbers and breeding success.The diet samples give us an idea of what is
going on in the food web, as krill is the main food source for most large
beasties down here and can help explain why the penguins might be having a
bad/good year.Adding another year to
this dataset is the main reason I am here.
When I am not doing all of this, I might be busy cooking
(the daily cook makes the bread and cooks the evening meal), cleaning, or
helping one of the visiting scientists with their work (such as helping Marie
dig snow pits on the Gourlay glacier to take ice and snow samples, or attaching
tracking devices to penguins, or collecting lake shrimps for scientists back in
Or if I’ve really finished all of that, occasionally I might
update my blog!