Sunday 7 February 2016

Rothera Wildlife

A small waddle (for apparently the is the group noun for penguins on land) of Emperor Penguins
I am now back in Scotland, my time in Antarctica is over (for this season at least). However, I do want to write a bit more about Antarctica, and more specifically about one aspect of life at Rothera which I had previously only very briefly mentioned, and that is the wildlife. Although there are no Antarctic land animals there is plenty of bird life, and the oceans around the continent team with life.
As the ice sea ice breaks up, and it is daylight 24 hours a day,  various creatures start appearing in the sea, the air, and waddling and dragging themselves onto the land. 

As there is no history of land predators in Antarctica, many of the creatures do not fear humans in the same way that most wild animals in other parts of the world would. There is a general indifference, or in some cases, an actual interest in the human inhabitants. This can allow some great close encounters. 
Emperor Penguins showing no fear of Tom or Anna. 
Penguins. These are the creatures that most people associate with the Antarctica. A few interesting penguins facts are that a group noun for penguins in the water is a raft, and on land is (very descriptively) a waddle. Penguins have two days of the year dedicated to them, the 20th of January is Penguin awareness day, and the 25th of April is world penguin day. 
There is a large number of different species, three of which I saw during my time down South. They were;

Emperor Penguins. The largest and perhaps the most elegant (at least when on land) type of penguins are Emperor Penguins. They tend more to strut than to waddle They are quite rare at Rothera, usually appearing early in the season. I was lucky enough to be on base when a group of four appeared this year .
An Adelie Penguin, a small creature with a lot of character and attitude.
Adelie Penguins. Adelies are a common sight at Rothera from about December on-wards. They waddle around base, usually in groups. Although small, they can be feisty little creatures, This can cause problems when they decide they want to wander over the runway, and I had a few entertaining sessions trying to keep them off the runway when planes were incoming.  Although comical in their waddling on land, in the water they were amazing fast and elegant creatures. 
Gangs of Adelie penguins waddle about Rothera. 
Chinstrap Penguins. I saw one Chinstrap Penguin. Chinstraps are rare visitors to Rothera. I did get a really good view of one when out for a walk around the point, unfortunately I did not have my camera. They are like a cross between an Adelie and an Emperor, closer to an Adelie in appearance, but to the Emperor in behaviour.
A Blue Eyed Shag, and it's reflection. 
Bird life.  A lot of different species of birds are regularly seen. Some, such as the gulls, skuas and the shags, are similar to the species present in Britain. Rothera is too far South for the famous, and huge, wandering albatross. However, there was another bird here which I found just as appealing as the albatross, and that was the snow petrel. These pure white birds float around on winds with an almost otherworldly grace. They can travel huge distances, and in some cases on the Antarctic continent, nest over a hundred miles from the coast. One would occasionally appear as Sky Blu, and being the only life we would see for weeks, it would feel great to see such a graceful visitor. 
An elephant seal doing what they seem to do best (at least when on land) , and that is sleeping. However, they must be pretty good at catching fish to get as fat as some of them do. 
Seals. We get a lot of seals at Rothera. The most noticeable are the elephant seals, they are huge, can easily weigh a few tonnes. You can often smell and hear them well before you see tham. They drag themselves up into the vicinity of Rothera, and laze around burping and farting. Occasionally they start fighting with each other as well. Weddel and Crabeaters are much smaller species, and are not too dissimilar to they species that you might get around the waters of Britain. Finally there is are Leopard seals. One of the top predators in the sea, these seal are large, slick and powerful predators. The shape of their face makes it look they are smiling, but in a sinister manner. Not a creature to get to close to.
Two young elephant seals fighting over who has the right to sleep in a large muddy puddle. 
Orcas and other types of whale. Orcas are not that common, but on my last day I did get an amazing view as a pod swam by, the closest ones beaching about 10m away from the wharf where I stood. Unfortunately I have been in such a hurry to get down to the wharf, that I forgot my camera.
Various other types of whales were spotted in the bay mainly by the boating and diving teams.
An Orca checking for tasty penguins/seals on an ice flow. Thanks to the boating team for the picture.