Monday, 28 January 2013

Pieter’s birthday on Sea Lion Island (Jan. 27, Frithjof)

Now I understood why Pieter had wanted to spend these days on Sea Lion Island: this Sunday was to be a very special birthday! We decided to spend the morning sampling a couple of sites, and the afternoon visiting 2 bird colonies. For me, this was also the occasion to try out my new dry suit. Given the wind direction, we opted to go to the “Orca Pool” – a site where Pieter had eyewitnessed a pack of 5 orcas killing an elephant seal in November 2011. The orcas were gone now and the swell was not too bad, so we deemed the site safe for snorkelling. The new dry suit passed the test, I managed to collect a number of seaweeds growing underneath the Durvillaea canopy and in the battered swell zone – habitats otherwise inaccessible by waders or scuba diving, snorkelling and creeping on the rocks really is the only option to access them -, and I had great fun swimming and snorkelling with penguins, flightless steamer ducks and cormorants. In the meantime, Pieter and Alexandra sampled a number of higher plants and small freshwater habitats for oomycete isolation work: his two previous visit to Sea Lion Island had resulted in the discovery of 3 new species of oomycetes. After a nice lunch at the Sea Lion Lodge, we headed to the colonies of Imperial Cormorants and Rockhopper Penguins in the SW of the island. A strong stench of ammonia hung over the cormorants’ colony (“βρομάει απαίσια” was part of Alexandra’s daily Greek lesson for me). Both colonies were under constant watch by a number of skuas and caracaras (the latter are one of the rarest, if not the rarest species of bird of prey in the World – but they are actually quite abundant in parts of the Falklands). One of the caracaras was most intrigued by my backpack which I had left on a rock above the penguin colony. The Rockhopper colony is also the site of the HMS Sheffield memorial, which was lost to an Argentine Exocet missile 40 nautical miles SE off Sea Lion Island on May 4, 1982 – this was the closest bit of land to the site of the sinking. The Falklands are a paradise-like place now, but the memory of the 1982 war remains almost omnipresent.

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