At Macca, we say farewell to a dear friend and welcome a few new ones. We also create a helicopter-proof shelter for one penguin couple’s nest. The annual resupply and seal census kept us busy, but we squeezed in a round of mini golf anyway.

Station update

It has been a week of change for us here on Macquarie Island, and an emotional one at that. We have farewelled a dear friend and welcomed 11 new ones.

The station was all geared up to welcome L’Astrolabe with our incoming summer expeditioners and cargo aboard. Plans changed with a decision to divert the Aurora Australis (AA) to collect an ill expeditioner on Macquarie Island who required medical treatment back in Australia. So on Sunday morning instead of a red, white and blue French ship sitting in the harbour, the big orange Aurora Australis was steaming up and down our coast. 

The anchor dropped at 0500 and the helicopters were unlashed, rolling onto the helideck to blade up. A swift helicopter operation moved the incoming Macca summering expeditioners ashore, and flew off our unwell expeditioner to return to Hobart. The entire operation was completed by 0645 and the AA was headed back to Hobart.

The French resupply ship L’Astrolabe continued to head our way with all of our summer cargo still aboard. She was originally expected on Sunday, and then Monday evening, but heavy seas slowed her progress. At station we planned, watched the weather forecasts, re-planned and watched the weather some more, devising an operation to complete the cargo off-load in some spirited Southern Ocean weather.

Thinking outside the box, an unload plan featuring our amphibious LARC vehicles was devised, and we all awaited the arrival of the ship around midnight Monday with anticipation. We awoke on Tuesday morning to a typical Macca day which saw the Australian and French flags on the isthmus fluttering proudly. With a sigh of relief, we determined that we had been afforded a weather window to enable us the opportunity to put our plan into place.

L’Astrolabe was seamlessly unloaded in under two hours, supervised and skippered by two of our AAD watercraft operators, Robbie and Psycho, who opportunistically are here on Macca at the moment. Those of us who have only witnessed the AA arrive here at Macca, were surprised by how close the ship comes to shore! The dulcet tones of some lovely French accents of the L’Astrolabe crew over the airwaves were appreciated by many on station throughout the morning. Everyone pulled together to lend a hand — from wildlife spotting, water craft crewing, cargo handling, preparing refreshments and driving machinery — in a wonderful display of teamwork.

Once unloaded, the ship promptly left our shores steaming toward the French Antarctic base Dumont d'Urville, only to turn around and seek some shelter for the evening to avoid some big Southern Ocean seas.

The green store is now bursting with boxes of fresh food, ample mail, and project equipment. The observation of Christmas come early was expressed by more than a few people. Winter expeditioners rejoiced at the arrival of various bits and pieces to replace gear that had failed throughout the winter. Naturally, mail from loved ones and fans was also excitedly received.

We celebrated the completion of our resupply and the start of our summer season with a lamb spit roast in the green store. 

Station is abuzz with excited new faces, whose enthralment with close proximity to so much wildlife around station is positively contagious.

With all of our expeditioners and cargo now ashore we look forward to settling in and getting summer season activities under way.

All on Macquarie Island send our best to our colleague now safely back in Hobart with wishes for a speedy recovery.

End of winter celebrations for the 68th ANARE crew

The wintering crew at Macca celebrated the end of the winter season with something a little different last week.

We decided to assemble a temporary putt putt course on station. Original plans had us embarking on this in market square but the Macca weather soon had us changing plans and it became an indoor event.

The crew divided into pairs with each team building a hole for the course in a different part of station. Justin and Jacque created a food and kitchen related maze in the mess. Rich and Mark built and electrical themed sci-fi looking course called ‘The Yark’ in the library cinema. Nick and Ben established a carpentry themed feat of greatness in the chippies workshop called ‘Ecoli'. Maz and Dan devised a course in the post office making creative use of the pool table, a cymbal and a water feature. The rangers made the obstacle course of doom in the green store, with such obstacles as ‘The kelp of doom', and ‘The tussock of doom'. Louise and Duncan established a green in the green store complete with a spinning wheel used to determine which weather related hole you had to sink the ball into.

Festivities then moved back to the green store in the evening for a ‘megaplex’ movie screening. We had originally planned on an outdoor drive-in movie but — you guessed it — Macca weather again had us relocating indoors. The trades guys erected a big screen and we furnished the mezzanine with comfy chairs, sofas, and a pie warmers. We tucked into cheese burgers and fries and enjoyed a screening of The Dark Knight.

A fun day of celebrations to end of our 68th ANARE winter season, and a farewell to one of our team, was appreciated by everyone.

Jacque Comery 

Gentoo penguin palace

Our recent visit from the Aurora Australis presented some unique challenges. We normally avoid helicopter operations on Macca at this time of year because of the abundance of wildlife around station. Landing on the usual helipads on the isthmus wasn’t an option because of the nearby elephant seal harem so an alternate site at the machinery shed was chosen as the least disruptive for wildlife. There was only one head-scratcher: a single pair of Gentoo penguins have their nest by the fire hydrant outside the machinery shed, less than ten metres from the helipad. We needed a plan so the penguin incubating the two eggs wasn’t blown off the nest by the down-draft of the helicopter or scared away by the sight of a big red ‘bird’ landing close by.

Nick, our carpenter, and Anna, the wildlife ranger, put their heads together. The solution: a custom built penguin palace with two walls, including one incorporating a natural rock feature, and a partial roof to shield the penguin from the down-draft and some of the view. The penguin seemed unconcerned about the additions to its surrounds, but would it work?

Early the next morning we waited with bated breath as the helicopter made its first approach. The penguin stood up on the nest for a moment just before the helicopter landed, and then settled back down on its eggs. Hurrah! It was hugs all round and a gold star for the parental dedication and resilience of the resident of the penguin palace.

Anna Lashko

No penguins were harmed in the making of this story. 

Elephant seal census day

October is all about elephant seals on Macquarie Island. We see the arrival of plump females, the birth of yelping pups, the posturing and bellowing of beachmasters, the wanderings of the first weaners and, the feasting of giant petrels and skuas when any of the seals die.

And, we count a LOT of elephant seals. We start counting the number of females around the isthmus in September on a weekly basis. Through the middle of October, when the number of females ashore peaks, we do counts daily for a week or so. In the middle of this period is the annual elephant seal census day, where a designated subset of the island’s beaches are surveyed for females. All of this counting once again requires a lot of dedicated expeditioner volunteers, who sign up for the pleasure of a wander along the beach, enjoying the sights of newborn pups exchanging calls with their mothers in the beautiful sunshine. However, they then discovered the ‘joy’ of trying to count a harem of several hundred females while having their eyeballs assaulted with horizontal sleet because they can’t count while wearing the glasses they brought to shield their eyes — they are already covered in sea spray.

Luckily our elephant seal counting crew are a tough bunch and were up for anything on census day — this count involved nearly all the island’s population with a skeleton crew keeping things ticking over on station. People were deployed to multiple locations on the island, positioned in readiness for the big count. The weather forecast for the planned day looked dreadful so a decision was made to move census day forward to avoid an island full of cold, ‘drowned rat’ volunteers.

Happily the chosen day dawned windy but clear, and the counters undertook their task in relative comfort. The beaches, points and hidden inlets were combed for females, any dead pups and any early weaners, and all of these were counted. We counted over 9300 females on the day. It was a wonderful effort by our keen counters, who returned to station weary but still smiling, ready to fall into bed and dream of counting elephant seals. Thanks team!

Anna Lashko

Photo gallery: All things resupply

The last word