Fur seals, history and hidden beauty on Macquarie Island.

Fur seal census

Each year Macquarie Island is visited over the summer months by Antarctic Arctocephalus gazella, subantarctic A. tropicallis and New Zealand A. forsteri fur seals. Historically, late February is the time of year when fur seals numbers peak on the island, before dropping off as pups are weened and adults depart for the sea once again. To coincide with the peak in seal numbers the Macquarie Island Fur Seal program, now in it’s 26th year, conducts an annual island census to record the quantity, age class and species of all fur seals on the island’s coastline. This year’s survey was again successful, with initial figures suggesting an overall slight increase in numbers of seals.

In general, counting fur seals sounds like a straight forward task. For much of the coastline this is true, with seals easy to spot on open beaches and on rock platforms within the breeding colonies. Areas closer to the southern end of the island proved trickier, with seals being sighted more intermittently, and found sleeping on top of rock stacks out of sight. The Northern and Southern tips of the island had the highest concentration of the New Zealand Fur Seals, which are the most difficult to count due to their tendency to head for water as soon as they see or smell a person approaching. Trying to get an accurate count means searchers need to move with swift fluid movements across rocks, combined with some stealth and a sharp eye.

The highlight of this year’s census was recording a pup that appeared to have been born at Hurd Point, at the southern end of the island, away from the rest of the island breeding colonies. It is not unheard of, but recording it’s birth highlights the value in having the annual census to pick up such things.

Tim Field

A little piece of history

The Anchor at Macquarie Island Station

At Macquarie Island station, one cannot miss the old anchor mounted on a rock stack in the middle of the station. The history of this anchor is unknown, however its design indicates a late 18th century manufacturing date. The anchor with its large iron ring and straight arms, pointed crown and very long shank (3.48 meters) is identical to the First Fleet (1788) anchor from the HMS Sirius  held in the National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour, and the anchor recovered from the Sydney Cove, wrecked on Preservation Island, Bass Strait in 1797.

By the 1820s most pointed crown anchors, like the Macquarie Island one, were becoming obsolete in favour of the curved arm anchor design, which lessened the arms angle in relation to the shank and greatly improved the anchors holding power. The Macquarie Island anchor when it was on the ship would have been referred to by the sailors as the “best bower” or “bower” due to it being carried in the bow of the ship.

How this anchor came to remain at Macquarie Island has been lost in the mist of time, yet it was common for ships to lose their anchors, or having to slip the anchor cable and claw off the shore in adverse conditions. However, it is most likely from an unrecorded very early shipwreck, as it would need to have been basically on the beach or shore to have been recovered in later years. The anchor was found by the sealers working on the island and seems to have always been somewhere on the Isthmus of the island. It was moved to the station site in the 1950s by ANARE expeditioners, where it remains today.

Information provided by Jonothan Davies, AAD Library

Hidden beauty

Fungi and mushrooms

Some of the beauty of Macquarie Island can be well hidden and tiny. Over the last month different fungi are appearing — often hidden in the grasses, or so tiny that they are easy to miss. Taking a slow walk and keeping eyes peeled on the ground can reward you with some enchanting sights.

A head start on Clean Up Australia Day