This week at Mawson we have an unusual visitor, four of the team take a break at Rumdoodle and the latest from the team at Béchervaise Island.

Meet one of the locals

While wandering around East Arm taking in the scenery recently, Pete spotted a local resident just out from beneath the fast ice. Trying unsuccessfully to blend into the dark substrate, this octopus eyed his observer suspiciously then at the first opportunity made a quick exit into deeper water.

After consulting the expert (Google) we identified this brilliant orange specimen (with faint red raised spots) as a Stuaranga octopuseus. Actually, after a longer more detailed look, we have come to the conclusion that it is more likely to belong to one of the previously identified genera of octopuses that inhabit the Southern Ocean such as Pareledone.

Pareledone is the most abundant and diverse octopus genus in the Antarctic region. Members of this genus are generally small and restricted to the continental shelf and slope margins of Antarctica and the surrounding sub-Antarctic islands. We thought our Mawson octopus looked similar to the East Antarctic Pareledone framensis or the circum-polar species Pareledone charcoti.

Rumdoodle excursion

Last week four of us — Andrew (Cookie), Simon, Peter (PLC) and myself, Pete — headed off for a two-night trip to stay at Rumdoodle hut and explore around on the plateau. Simon had not had a chance to see very much this summer (his first time here at Mawson) and PLC hadn’t been for a look around since he last wintered here just over a year ago.

As we have got accustomed to here at Mawson this summer, we had near perfect weather for the whole trip, the exception being Sunday morning with some wind and cloud.

Antarctica is a spectacular place and going out in the field and up on the plateau is always a treat; it varies so much depending on the time of year, month to month, and this time of year it can change significantly from day to day even with the melt under way.

We based ourselves at Rumdoodle as it’s one of the roomier huts and quite central to all the areas we intended to, and did, explore.

We had a magic time away with some of the highlights being Patterned Lake and our last stop Hidden Lake. This time of year is quite warm, it has been up to 4°C on occasion. This means lots of melt on the plateau with melt streams running here and there which is always nice to see and listen to. We found several spots where the moraine debris had water running through it with one spot having some small tunnels through the ice which looked like frozen waves in the photos.

All up we had a magic time away, good for recharging the batteries and great to see some of the wonders of Antarctica that are right here on our doorstep.

Pete Hargreaves

Latest from Béchervaise Island

Matt and Lisa have been busy this week counting and weighing Adélie chicks every second day to monitor changes in this year’s penguin cohort.

They currently have about 1250 chicks on the island, but lose 20 to 30 every three to four days to predation, illness or starvation.

They report the surviving penguin chicks are becoming far more independent and now many are left alone in crèches while both parents are foraging.

Around the penguin colonies they have observed nine skua chicks. They note these are healthy and growing fast, being fed off the abundance of fat penguin chicks.

The team have also been collecting faecal samples from adult birds to determine any changes in diet during the chick-rearing period. As the sea ice broke out early this summer they are keen to see if the adult birds take advantage of the food found inshore or head for their usual foraging grounds further out, and what if any impact this will have on chick survivorship. They have also collected faecal samples and abandoned eggs to test for any persistent organic pollutants (POPs), part of a larger project that includes samples from penguin colonies near Davis station.

Over the past few weeks Matt and Lisa have also taken time to collect and collate any marine debris found on Béchervaise Island. Matt tells me that almost all items collected have originated from station but the good news is our storage methods have improved as most of these items are old and have been there for some time. He thinks that the early and thorough melt this year has freed debris that has been frozen in ice for many years.