Our wandering albatross and gentoo chicks are getting bigger; we revisit our photo points and pay some attention to clouds in the sky.

Wandering into the world

The five wandering albatross chicks on Macquarie Island are getting ready for their first flight. Over the past 10 months they have grown from small, chicken size balls of white down, to impressive full-feathered juveniles.

They now weigh between 10 –12 kilograms each and are sporting their full juvenile plumage of brown feathers. Last month they were visited by the albatross team of Penny and Kim along with wildlife ranger Marcus and field training officer John. Each chick was given a small identification band to help identify them when they return to the island. We will continue to monitor them via remote cameras until they take flight.

There are an estimated 8500 pairs of breeding wandering albatross in the Southern Ocean. They are a threatened species listed as vulnerable on the under National and Threatened under Tasmanian state legislation.

The Macquarie Island population is small with between 5 –10 pairs attempting to breed each year and around 20 adults of breeding age re-sighted each season.

The wandering albatross population is monitored annually as part of the Albatross and Giant Petrel Program on Macquarie Island. The first adult of the season was recently spotted on the featherbed, prospecting for a good nest site. The survival of these five chicks is important as they are the only breeding population of wandering albatross in Australia.

These chicks will now leave Macquarie Island and on their journey over the next 10 years they will circle the Southern Ocean. Once they feel the call of home and the reproduction urge, sometime in summer between 4–8 years from now, they will stop in at the Island to learn the courtship rituals and then from eight years old they will build nests in an attempt to attract a life partner and continue the circle of life.

The road ahead is challenging, they must master their three metre long wingspans, find food, avoid all dangers in the ocean and then land again back where it all began.

Good luck wandering juveniles, your species needs you and we look forward to seeing you again someday!

Kimberley Kliska 

Photo points

Summer is always a busy time on station. Regular readers of Station News have been able to see first hand some of the most recent events on station — resupply, new science projects and breeding wildlife have all featured. We have not forgotten the regular photo point story.

Ever steadily and through all of the hustle and bustle, the island’s permanent residents quietly go on doing their thing…

The elephant seal breeding cycle is nearing completion for this season. Cast your mind back to September when the first breeders came ashore and the progression in harem size to the peak in October when the beaches were so busy. Our latest photo along the beach still shows plenty of activity, but this time it’s the juvenile elephant seals heading back out to the open ocean — the same animals that we watched over being born only 10–12 weeks ago! 

Each afternoon and overnight, the young seals have been seen in the water learning to swim and familiarising themselves with the watery domain to which they will become masters. For the moment we get to see them resting up each day. There will still be plenty of activity around the beaches for now as the annual cycle of the seal continues with young adult non–breeders returning to moult. This time next year some of our young weaners that we have seen over the season will return.

Quietly up on the hill however, each day the Pluerophyllum hookeri is gently going about it’s summer breeding cycle. The plants in our photo point have quadrupled in size since the start of September; some plants on the plateau have already commenced flowering. Patience for the plants we’ve been watching on the hill. Afterall, with a view out the office window like this — who wants to rush things!

Chris Howard

Gentoo chicks growing up

Now that the gentoo chicks are getting bigger and mostly off the nest and roaming free, one of the most amusing things is to watch them chase their parent in their quest for more food. No calmly waiting until its their turn here — they actively pursue the parent bird down the road and through the tussock, squawking out for more food the whole way and sticking very close.

Look up!

Things must be getting dire when you decide to try to interest the masses with a weather observer’s photos of clouds, but here goes.

Clouds have been given a Latin naming scheme much like plants and animals, with any given cloud belonging to a genus, species and variety.

There are ten genera but they can be basically divided into three groups by height, and hence temperature: high Cirrus clouds are composed entirely of ice crystals and look white and wispy, medium level clouds “Alto…” are a mix of both ice and liquid water and low level clouds (Stratus, Cumulus and Stratocumulus) are predominantly liquid so have a comparatively grey appearance.

With the advent of regular satellite images visual cloud observations are no longer of vital importance to forecasting, but it’s nice to be able to “entertain” your friends at picnics by putting names to any interesting looking clouds, and explaining the associated weather that causes them.

The atmosphere is thinner towards the poles, so cloud types here are packed a bit closer together vertically than in warmer climes, and the cool water combined with shallow atmosphere make thunderstorms pretty rare. Otherwise our cloud selection is similar to the rest of Tassie.

Orographic clouds are clouds caused by the shape of land. We have lots of moist sea air cooling as it is forced up and over the island, so we commonly get orographic stratus on top of the island. Mountain wave clouds are another orographic formation and usually form as lenticular (lens shaped) clouds out to the east of the island in our prevailing westerlies.

Given our high occurrence of mist and fog, “fog bows” are a common photometeor (sky thingy made of light) here. These are very similar to rainbows, except the tiny size of the fog droplets compared to raindrops makes the colours so weak as to appear largely white.

Halos around the sun or moon are a photometeor associated with ice crystals in the air, so usually indicate Cirrostratus cloud.

George Brettingham-Moore


The sinking of the Nella Dan is, unfortunately, just the most recent in the history of shipwrecks on the island. In fact, the first visitors to the island were most probably shipwreck victims.

As the sealing trade took off and traffic to the Island became more regular, records of incidents were kept. Early recorded casualties include the Campbell Macquarie in 1813 and the Betsey in 1815. The sealing vessel Caroline was wrecked in the area now named after it, Caroline Cove, in 1825 after being swept ashore by a storm. Inevitably the weather is almost always to blame.

On November 10, 1898, the Gratitude, a long time visitor to the island and considered one of the finest vessels working the area, was washed ashore in a storm with waves so high that she ended up missing the reef completely and beaching herself. Her crew were all safely landed and worked hard to save what supplies they could and what was left of the cargo. Rough weather continued and late in November waves threw the wreck above the high water mark, smashing the boat up at the same time. When the ship did not return to New Zealand on schedule, the Tutanekai was sent to Macquarie to see what had happened and arrived February 17, 1899 to rescue the shipwrecked crew, all the whom survived the ordeal.

Not all were so lucky. On December 20, 1910 the Jessie Nichol hit the rocks at the Nuggets. Most of the crew were sent ashore, a trip that took about an hour of steady rowing through the gale, and upon finally arriving at the beach the boat overturned, filled with water and couldn’t be relaunched. The Captain, First Mate and Cook had elected to stay with the ship and sadly perished when the boat couldn’t be sent back out for them. The ship itself broke up on the rocks.

On December 28, a passing vessel Ida. M Clarke, called at the island and offered to take the survivors with them to the Campbell Islands. As they had sufficient provisions, the crew of the Jessie Nichol elected to stay and weren’t rescued until the Huanui came to pick them up in March, 1911. But not all of them were ready to leave: five of the men were enjoying island life enough to elect to stay on for another three months for the elephant seal season.

These sealing gangs weren’t having much luck though, and the vessel sent to relieve these five volunteers and resupply the next sealing crew, the Clyde, was also hit by storms upon arriving at Macquarie Island and she dragged on her anchors and was blown close to shore. Three crewmen rowed ashore through turbulent seas to announce their arrival to the five men living at the camp. The men all set to work unloading stores hoping for a quick turnaround, however the wind turned easterly and the surf increased — a tell for an encroaching storm for those that knew the island weather, which this captain did not.

For three days a gale blew, and, despite the desperate efforts of the captain and crew, the Clyde struck a reef and ultimately washed ashore, however all crew were safely landed after a tremendous effort by the shore crew. The wreck offered additional supplies to those men working the island and they stripped her of everything they could that would improve the quality of their lives, including sails, running gear and surplus stores. The kitchen stove was taken ashore and installed in their hut, whilst the increase in rum rations was welcome indeed!

In 1914, when visits to the island had commenced for purposes other than oil and skins, the Australian Government science research ship, S.Y.Endeavour, was sent to the island to relieve the current meteorologist living on the island and conduct research into fisheries. The ship arrived at Macquarie Island in poor visibility after a rough voyage from Hobart. The weather station was handed over and fish were trawled for and collected — some species of which had never been seen by the ship’s biologist before.

On the morning of December 3, 1914 the Endeavour left the island in a heavy fog and was never seen again. Powered by steam, with sails as a backup, the ship was thought able to weather most conditions and the authorities held no grave concerns at first. A number of search vessels were dispatched to search for the ship but found no trace of the vessel in the seas she was believed to be in. The search was finally abandoned on February 6, 1915 and a later inquiry resolved that the ship foundered in a gale and all 23 men on board perished, including the home–coming meteorologist Harold Power with all the data from his year on the island.

The mystery shipwreck of the island, or stuff of legend if you prefer, is that of the Eagle, a ship believed to have been wrecked on the west coast sometime in the 1860’s and of who’s voyage there is no verifiable information.

In 1877, two crewmen from the (also shipwrecked) Bencleugh, went for a walk around the island and came a cross a ship’s figurehead of a large eagle at what is now known as Eagle Cove. Four months later, the cove was again visited and it was noted that there was a cave which looked like it had once been inhabited, presumably by the survivors of a shipwreck, as there was wreckage on the beach to go with the figurehead. The legend grew in the retelling and by 1947 the Adelaide Mail reported: “In the 1860’s a brig was wrecked off the promontory later named Wireless Hill. Nine men and one woman got ashore through the mountainous combers and lived for 26 months in a wet, shallow cave before they were rescued — gibbering skeletons, draped in blistered skin, their hair matted and their teeth loose with scurvy… The female died the day the rescuing sealer hove in sight.” Wireless Hill and Eagle Cave are not close enough to each other for this story to mesh seamlessly with that earlier account of wreckage on the beach by the cave, but of such things are legends made…

Compiled with information from “Macquarie Island” by J.S Cumpston and the TasPWS website. http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/fahan_mi_shipwrecks/journals/Shipwrecks/shipwrec.html