Planes finally land at Mawson station, an amusing story on the dogs of Antarctica, including a request for help in identifying one of the last huskies, plus a look at the lovable Adélie penguins.

Ze plane! Ze plane!

Excitement for those in the know. The plane is coming! The Basler has left Casey, skipped in and out of Davis and is on its way to Mawson.

With hugs and a handshake the lucky headed off to the sea ice departure lounge. The rest of us watched from the heights above station.

Lower and lower the plane could be heard but much time passed before it emerged from the gloomy clouds. After a few inquisitive passes, the red and white bird shied and flew away.

Despite our dogged determination to smooth away every bump in the ice and having an extra bright red beacon, the pilots could not find the ground on this overcast day.

Mawson weather has since turned sunny and clear whilst Davis has clouded over and showered with snow. No plane for today or the next day or the next.

Now the ‘Orange Roughy’ is almost ready to sail from Prydz Bay. A blizzard is brewing on the horizon keeping all birds on the ground for days to come. By the time our returnees get to Davis their ship, like Mawson’s, may have left without them.

Lost dog

This story is dedicated to all the pets missing their owners. Whether an outdoorsy black lab, a kelpie ute dog or a house bound pampered pooch, they are missed.

I have lost my dog. Hopefully someone can help me find it. I am not the only one to have lost a dog in Antarctica however.

Early dogs in Antarctica

Although there has been the odd cat in Antarctica, Mrs. Chippy on Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition being the most famous, it really is a place for dogs.

In 1911 Amundsen won the race to the South Pole. His party used dogs both for pulling his sleds and for food. Of the 52 he started with, 41 dogs were lost.

Scott made it to the Pole shortly after Amundsen. However he did not like dogs (more a cat person perhaps?) preferring the ‘more noble and splendid’ art of man-hauling his sleds. Sadly it did not end well for him.

Douglas Mawson lost most of his provisions, dogs and beloved friend and fellow expeditioner Ninnis down a crevasse on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. He and Mertz were forced to eat the remaining dogs on the way back to base. Vitamin A poisoning from the dog livers killed Mertz and left Mawson in a very poor state when he finally made it back. All 17 dogs were lost.

Dogs at Mawson

Huskies arrived at Mawson early in 1954. They lived and worked hard for many years, forming close bonds with the expeditioners. In 1991 the Madrid Protocol banned any non-native animals from Antarctica except humans. So in 1992 most of the dogs were sent to Minnesota, USA, to continue working where they could. The following year the last six huskies left the station to retire in Australia, and so Mawson lost all its dogs.

Some of the dogs have since returned. Noogis hangs out in the pool room with his block of Pemmican and Vida is on guard in the red shed foyer. Misty’s ashes are in the dog room along with many photos of the dogs on the walls.

Another lost dog

Another Antarctic dog that more recent expeditioners may have encountered is also missing. Stay the guide dog has not been seen for some time.

Stay is a female apparently, although it’s hard to be sure — a golden white labrador who in a former life helped collect money for the Guide Dogs Association. Although made of strong stuff (fiberglass) she only has three legs. Her missing leg has been replaced with a wooden prosthetic.

Originally sent to Mawson in 1991 in response to the pending departure of the huskies, Stay has since travelled extensively. She has visited many of the Antarctic stations and field camps and has even spent time in the high Arctic. There is even a book on her and she has her own Facebook page.

Alas Stay has been missing since she got back from Commonwealth Bay last summer. She helped with the rescue of passengers on the Akademik Shokalsky then boarded the Aurora Australis. After that no one is sure. A recent sighting at Macquarie Island got a few people excited but unfortunately it proved to be only a cardboard cut-out.

I was lucky to have wintered with Stay at Casey in 2004. She went on several adventures with us including to the top of Law Dome and out to Cape Poinsett. A faithful companion, Stay always got us back in one piece.

My lost dog

So we come to my lost dog.

While working outside the operations building I noticed that on the plinth for one of the antenna masts there are paw prints of the last huskies to leave Mawson. There is a plaque description: “Paw prints from the last huskies. Departed Mawson 15th December 1993”. Below each paw print is a bronze plate with each dog’s name on it. Elwood, Welf, Brendan and Morrie are there but two were missing. I found Ursa in the snow nearby but not the sixth name plate.

So if anyone can help me with the name of my lost dog, let me know. We can then make up a new name plate and get this lost dog back to his home.

Greg Stone

The Béchervaise Island Adélie penguins

The routines of station life are broken up by many things but by far and away my favourite escape are those little trips into the field. Whether visiting those regal emperor penguins at the off-the-show Auster rookery, or a trip up onto the plateau behind the station to spend a night in one of the field huts and, if the weather permits, a stroll around those awesome foothills. These visits can be for recreation and other times in the name of science when the opportunity presents itself, which after all is what we are here for.

So when the chance to help and learn comes along its great to be involved. Currently we are lucky enough to be assisting with the Béchervaise Adélie penguin programme. Our scientists have not yet arrived so all on station are taking part in the first part of the monitoring programme. Firstly the counting of the arriving penguins, then the identification of nest sites and lastly the observing and recording of Adélies with eggs. The first egg was spotted on Sunday 9 November, fortunately for myself,  Sparky Dan and Doctor James got the privilage of being there. It’s really just a treat to be able to sit down and watch these little birds with a whale sized personality go about their daily routines — quite a job it is to attempt to count about three and a half thousand very busy little penguins.

So, here are a few little facts about our fantastic little fine feathered friends:

The Adélie is a medium sized penguin, weighing between three and six kilograms and standing 70 cm tall. Males and females are of similar size and difficult to tell apart. Adélie’s are excellent swimmers. In fact, some have been recorded swimming as far as 300 km (150 km each way) to forage food for their chicks. They are very determined and successful long distance walkers, with a walking speed on-ice which averages 2.5 km/hr and swimming speed from four to eight kilometres per hour.

Adélie penguins build nests out of the pebbles they find on dry land during spring. They choose a sloping site so that when snow melts, the water runs away from the nest. The nest must also be close to open water so the Adélie’s can eat. By mid-November there are two eggs in the nest. Both parents take turns to incubate the eggs, while the other goes to sea to feed. When the birds are not incubating the eggs, females spend 15 to 20 days at sea, while the males spend 10 and 12 days at sea regaining the weight lost during courtship. Once chicks hatch in December the parents alternate guard and feeding duties — they swap over every couple of days. The adult birds catch fish, krill and other small crustaceans, which they regurgitate for their chicks. The chicks on Béchervaise Island have been shown to grow by 80 grams per day.

In January, when chicks are three weeks old, they are big enough to be left alone. This allows both parents to simultaneously collect food for them. When the parents are away the chicks group together for protection and warmth.

In February the chicks replace their down with adult feathers and they are then ready to go to sea. At this stage the chicks are between seven and nine weeks of age. Once they depart most chicks will not return to the breeding colony until they are between three to five years of age and are capable of breeding. Adélie penguins have a life expectancy of ten to twenty years.

Hope you enjoyed?

Curly

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