This week we take a last look at Platcha, prepare for the ship and say farewell

Last winter trip to Platcha

Chris, Paul and I went out on a field trip this week as this was the last opportunity for some to head out before the arrival of the ship. We headed off on the quad bikes on the sea ice up to Platcha Hut which is right next to where the plateau meets the Vestfold hills. Along the way we encountered lots of wildlife that has been returning over the last few weeks. From Adélie and emperor penguins, Weddell seals, skuas, cape petrels or pintatos, and snow petrels.

Many of the Weddell seals have given birth to their pups. The pups are so cute, some sleeping, some feeding and some very active rolling around on the sea ice. Lots of time was spent taking photos.

After this we went to conquer Stalker Hill which may only be 144 metres tall but it is one of the highest hills within the Vestfold’s. After about one hour of hiking we reached the top to be greeted with one of the most spectacular views in the world. Spanning across the entire Vestfold Hills, the lakes, the plateau and the sea ice with all the icebergs dotted along the coast. We couldn’t have had a more perfect day with the sun shining, almost no wind and close to positive temperatures. We were the only winterer’s to have climbed Stalker Hill and signed the visitor’s book at the top since the departure of the summer expeditioners.

We then headed to Platcha Hut where we stayed the night. The next day it was back to station via a brief stop at Magnetic Island to see the return of hundreds of Adélie penguins to their colony. Such a magnificent sight.

Aaron Stanley 

Giant seal and giant petrels

The weather has been getting significantly warmer, we have even seen positive temperatures – feels like t-shirt weather. I remember last summer looking forward to the winter and to a much slower and quieter pace. I’d also had enough of the almost constant daylight and the darkness would be a welcome change.

It certainly was, however as the saying goes too much of a good thing, as it also came with what I saw as seriously cold temperatures, although they were not the exact words I was using at the time. We had an all time record low for September of −39 and a bit °C.

So the return of very long daylight has been very welcome and with that the wildlife seems to have flooded in as if someone had flicked a switch. I have been checking on some automatic nest cameras and the pictures on those went from completely deserted colonies to penguins absolutely everywhere, squabbling and fighting for a spot to nest in a matter of a week or two.

Recently we went to Kazak Island to check on an automatic weather station, via the Hawker Island giant petrel colony as there was a faulty solar panel that needed replacing. Hawker Island is an Antarctic specially protected area, which means its normally completely off limits. I was lucky enough to have a permit to enter to be able to check and maintain the cameras there.

Interestingly the permit specifies that it must be carried at all times while there and must be produced on demand, although I’m not sure who could possibly be able show up and to ask for it in Antarctica in the winter! However our station leader dutifully checked I had it with me and I in turn dutifully carried it on me.

The giant petrels are really magnificent. Their wingspan is probably larger than my arm–span and they are amazing in the air, however on the ground they are quite cumbersome and almost need some headwind to be able to take off.

Later at Kazak Island we saw one trying to get into the air unsuccessfully because it’s feet were slipping on the smooth snow free sea ice.

The real prize was however waiting for us at Kazak Island about ten kilometres south of station and although the camera there had a few problems, that was offset by what I thought at the time was a leopard seal because it was so huge and seemed to have a sort of spots.

I had never seen before, nor had I googled what they look like. She was massive, at a guess (and it’s not a very educated guess) I’d say 600 kilograms plus. Bigger than some of the elephant seals we saw last summer. It turns out she was a Weddell seal like most of the seals here but a very very big one.

That is not the exciting part though, the most exciting part is that she had probably just given birth to her pup. When we got there she and the pup was still lying in the afterbirth and other various blood and gunk on the snow. By the time I had finished with the camera – 15 minutes say, she had moved the pup away from that.

I’m told they do that very quickly after the birth so the pup isn’t near it, as it attracts skuas and other predatory birds who will, given a chance, try to kill the pup.

Below are some pictures of the super cute pup probably less than a few hours old.

Ladge Kviz 

Last hurrah

We thought the winter was over when the Twin Otter KCS arrived last week but they only stayed a few days and left for Casey so we were back in winter mode again.

Today we can fleetingly see the ship between the icebergs, through the low cloud, snow showers and high winds, but due to the weather remain just 16 on station.

Tomorrow should change all that!

This will be the last station news from the 69th ANARE… thanks for reading!

Ali Dean, Station Leader.