Animals everywhere — first leopard seal sightings, orcas off the coast and seals are hauling out. Spring is getting busy on Macca.

First leopard seal sighting of the season!

Leopard seals were once common on Macquarie Island. Recently they are somewhat of a rarity, with just a few seen each season, usually in winter and spring. On the 18th of August, Marcus and George came across a leopard seal sleeping on a beach about 900 metres from Waterfall Bay hut. Marcus and George had spent the day surveying king penguin chick crèches (for their population census), which was special enough as it was. This sighting — the first for the season was quite a pleasant surprise.

Leopard seals, or sea leopards, usually inhabit the pack–ice surrounding Antarctica. They have special teeth that allow them to feed on large prey like penguins, as well as very small prey, like krill. Leopard seals live a rather solitary life, only coming together for breeding. Females give birth to one pup in November. Soon after, females and males share songs underwater and then they mate. The female delays implantation of the embryo so that the pup is born in summer. The length of gestation is not that different to a human: between 9 and 11 months.

Marcus Salton

Update: We also had our first leopard seal visit West Beach last Sunday

The wildlife are getting busy…

Spring is rapidly approaching. The island doesn’t wait for a particular day on the calendar to signal the start — each species of plant or animal waits for its own series of triggers to kick start the particular breeding particular cycle. The old saying of ‘the chicken or the egg’ has some relevance here.

The spring/summer breeding cycle kicked off a few weeks ago with the northern giant petrels laying eggs — an incubation period of 60 days and we should start to see the chicks appear by early to mid October, just in time for elephant seal pupping. The southern giant petrels will also start nesting soon.

The elephant seals have been present all year round on Macca but now the ‘boys are back in town’ — the much larger mature breeding bulls have started arriving back over the last few weeks, each keen to stake out their claim on a section of the beach, along with the soon to arrive harem of females. This last week saw the first of those females return to the Isthmus. They normally arrive a few days before they are due to give birth — the first pups will be here any day!

So too, the gentoo have been very active this last few weeks. We’ve been watching the cycle kick start with the courting and nest building — eggs will soon follow. Just over 30 days from laying for those chicks to hatch!

In amongst all this, the skua have returned from their northern travels over winter. It is no coincidence that skua and giant petrels breed on Macca at this time of year. These bird species perform a critical role in the functioning of the island ecosystem during the busy spring/summer period! They feed on carrion and in their own special way go about keeping the island ‘clear’ of the ‘natural mess’ associated with the breeding season. This includes afterbirth from seals, discarded eggs from penguins, weak or dead penguin chicks or cleaning up dead seals — all valuable food sources for hungry chicks. Don’t worry… if something is at death’s door, they’ll pull it through!

No sign of the royal penguins yet, but they’re not far away. The quiet rookeries of the east coast — currently empty expanses of mud will soon be a hive of activity! King penguin chicks have been quietly doing ‘their thing’ over winter. It won’t be long now before the first of them start to moult their warm winter juvenile brown feather coats for the elegant plumage of young adult birds.

Up on the plateau, the plants have sensed the increasing day length associated with spring. Mega herbs such as Macquarie Island cabbage (Stilbocarpa polaris) and the silver daisy (Pleurophyllum hookeri) are all showing early signs of waking from their winter dormancy.

Watch this space next week! We’re establishing two photo points that we plan on revisiting each week so that you can share the scenery with us as the season rolls along.

Chris Howard

A killer way to return to station!

Over the past few weeks we have been sighting orca, or killer whales, more regularly close to station and during island sorties. On Tuesday this week, Marcus and George returned from a field trip and when walking down Doctors Track (the main access route to the island plateau) and back onto station they were greeted by a pod of seven or so orca. A pretty awesome way to arrive back on station!

Orca are the largest member of the dolphin family. They are often seen around Macquarie Island, particularly during spring/summer when the island is teeming with life and therefore food! We collect photos of individuals, not only because they are amazing animals, but also individuals can be identified by their dorsal fin and white saddle–patch. For example, a male orca has been identified in the waters around Macquarie Island several years in a row. We are not sure if the large male in the pod seen on Tuesday is the same male. Hopefully we will get some better photos next time.

Observations of orca peak in December when elephant seal weaners start venturing out to sea. Speaking of which, the elephant seal pups should arrive any day now! Watch this space!

Marcus Salton 


Most of us expeditioners pass through the field huts for a couple of nights on one of our off–station strolls and are grateful to be able to find something to construct a meal out of — stir fry pasta sauce, casserole in a can, a bar of chocolate — but for the science and ranger people who can be in the huts for weeks at time, particularly over summer, field hut cooking is a much more important activity.

The huts are supplied annually with a generous range of foodstuffs from tinned butter and canned pre–prepared meals to dehydrated vegetables, cous cous, chocolate biscuits and a multitude of herbs and spices. It’s really quite ‘gourmet’ out there these days!

The huts are fitted with a small gas oven and two to three hotplates and there isn’t much that hasn’t been produced out of these facilities, well, except for a roast chicken dinner, (as no chicken or fresh vegetables are allowed in the field due to risk of disease transmission).

In fact, there is even a hut cookbook: “How to Cook an Albatross”, which was originally compiled back in 06/07 by the albatross researchers based at Hurd Point for the summer, and has been added to over the years, especially by the MIPEP hunters and dog handlers who were living in the huts for weeks on end during the eradication. The biggest difference between then and now being that we don’t have a surplus of rabbits to add to the pot anymore…

Hurd Point log — 4/3/67 — Richard Schmidt & Peter Ormay

Richard demonstrated his culinary talent with monster pancakes for breakfast, fruitcake for lunch, and meat — pie and a ‘small’ steam pudding and custard for tea that would have fed the whole station… Last night he prepared a very edible meal out of tuna and silver beet with the help of a few sultanas and spice…

Green Gorge hut log — 21/1/74 — Chris Russell

Arrived 6:00pm after shooting some rabbits for tea.

Green Gorge hut log — 3/2/74 — I. Skira

Cary’s preparing a chow mein dinner at the moment and we are full of confidence that it will be edible.

Hurd Point hut log — 12/10/74 — Ralph Breckton

Had a visit from Iri at lunchtime, but he wouldn’t join us after viewing Brian’s “damper”, can’t really blame him. We eventually fed it to the skuas, they appear to be “grounded” for the rest of the day, if we can get the rabbits to eat it no one need carry a gun anymore… Brian’s making some biscuits now, using custard powder, looks more like gunpowder. This could be the end of us. Will resume this journal in the morning. God willing.

Lusitania Bay hut log — 8/6/77 — D. Griffiths

Today made chocolate cake. Gad, how decadent. It tasted 10 times worse than it looked, and even looked nauseating.

Sandy Bay hut log — 19/7/77 — Paul Musk & Don McLeay

Shot 4 rabbits for tea and had rabbit stew.

Green Gorge hut log — 4/12/79 — Rod Seppelt & Pat Selkirk

We are steadily compiling the Macquarie Island Hutwives Cookbook — subtitled 100 different ways to avoid Fray Bentos and sledgies — it’s sure to be a best seller.

Sadly we haven’t been able to find a copy of this precursor to “How to Cook an Albatross”, but Fray Bentos are still a standard item in the hut pantry and seem to be a ‘you either love ‘em or hate ‘em’ meal…

Green Gorge hut log –10/10/81 — Mark

George showing some culinary prowess and baking the renowned Teacake disguised as a loaf of bread. Now getting minute reports on progress of dough proving.

Green Gorge hut log — 11/10/81 — Mark

Abandoning loaf of bread as weigh could jeopardise the safety of anyone foolish enough to attempt carrying it back.

Green Gorge hut log — 10/10/84 — Jan Adolph

…shot a rabbit near Major lake and so it was apricot rabbit with rum and mixed herbs, cooked by the doc, for dinner and it was good stuff. 

Davis Point hut log –12/11/96 — Darron and Sophie

How to make pancakes without eggs: +/- 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of milk and a teaspoon of baking powder. That’s it, the pan here is great for making them. Yummy! PS: don’t forget the salt.

Waterfall Bay Hut log 14/6/99

Bob arrived at this sub–antarctic sanctuary @ about 4 o'clock (it was dark!) after an adventure–full day of adventures. 1). left Davis in darkness at 0630 to schedule in from Tio 2). fell into wallow 3). scheduled in 4). made scones 5). killed rabbit 6). caught fingers in trap 7). drank whisky 8). had sponge bath 9). made pizza! Hey, and its Wednesday!

Sounds like a Bob had a perfect Macca day!