We count all sorts of stuff here at the AAD. 16 expeditioners. Check. Boxes of toilet paper and tissues sufficient to last the next 10 years. Check. COVID-19 PPE to survive the next three pandemics. Check. Elephant seals. Mmmm... where to start? There’s a lot of them and they’re spread all around this wild island in some very difficult to access geography. We’ll have to think about this one…
Luckily, the 74th ANARE at Macca had the will and our very cool rangers Shelley and Kim from the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service had the way! Now in all seriousness, the conduct of a whole of island Elephant seal census was a significant activity. For a week it required the majority of our station resources, some very fit and willing people and good weather to make the opportunity possible. Lining up all of these variables down here is not easy and is the reason the whole of island census has only been completed twice in the last 20 years. Smaller areas are completed on an annual basis, but the whole of island census helps provide the bigger picture for what is a magnificent, but unfortunately declining species. The data we could gather as a team would help the scientists better understand what is going on. As a result, we threw ourselves into the process.
The guts of the work was having a number of people working in pairs across the island and our wildlife ranger working solo in the areas where there was the highest risk of wildlife disturbance. The census starts at the very specific date of either 15 or 16 October and is designed to occur during the peak breeding period. But it's not just Elephant seals breeding at the moment. There’s large populations of penguins (Royal, Rockhopper, King and Gentoo) and various petrels and other seabirds to consider in our movements. However, over a 3 day period from 16-18 October we completed a successful circumnavigation of the island and over the period 10-20 October we completed daily counts of the seal harems around station – the location of the largest Elephant seal populations on the island. We counted females of breeding age, dead pups and weaned pups in order to make overall assessments about the health of the Macquarie Island Elephant seal population.
We look forward to seeing the results in November as the rest of October is busy with further Gentoo penguin census work and the marking of Black Brow and Grey Head albatross nesting sites. And that’s just the next 10 days. In November, there will be more to do as the pace of work for the rangers over spring/summer is quite frenetic and wherever we can lend a hand, the AAD expeditioners are keen to get involved.
Macca is amazing and the opportunity to be a part of all this for a year continues to be an amazing life experience. We are all very lucky to be here.
From Derek and your friendly neighbourhood Macca crew.