Subantarctic adventure part 2 – Macquarie Island

Royal Penguin colony

This is a continuation of the thread that started in part 1. If you haven’t read it yet, you should start there!
We left Carnley Harbour on “Day 5”. The next day was spent at sea heading towards Macquarie Island.

Day 7

Macquarie Island is administered by Tasmania, and the ANARE station there is essentially a joint venture between the Australian Antarctic Division, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, and even the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The island the only area where Royal Penguins breed, and is also home to King, Gentoo, and Rockhopper Penguins, Southern Elephant Seals, skuas, albatrosses, and more. Since the last of the feral animals (rats, mice, cats, etc) were finally removed from the island the flora and fauna have both been recovering, and the wildlife really seems to be everywhere. Macquarie Island is also known as the Galapagos of the Southern Ocean (or sometimes the Galapagos of the South Pacific).

This morning we visited the northern end of the island where the ANARE base is located. We took Zodiacs to shore, where we were met by rangers and each group was accompanied by a ranger on a tour of the “Isthmus” area including the base itself (we had 5 groups, which is more rangers than they have at the base so some non-PWS staff were roped in instead).

Elephant Seal in bed

The Elephant Seals are my personal favourite amongst the marine mammals. They’re big and noisy, but very cute in their own way. We didn’t see any of the huge “beachmasters” as they’d already left, but we did see some very large individuals. The sub-adults we saw were all going through the annual moult, where they stay out of the water for ages until they grow their new fur. Some of them were “teenagers” doing practice fights, while some were “weaners” whose mothers had just recently gone to sea (the weaners weren’t moulting).

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The station has a Gentoo Penguin colony in its midst, and there were a fair few King Penguins around too. We saw some Rockhoppers from the Zodiacs on our way back to the ship.

King Penguin A2_183216 A2_183618 Checking on the kids

 Inside the mess Inside the mess

One section of beach had a mixture of live animals (seals and birds) interspersed with some seal carcasses being feasted on by the skuas and giant petrels. The petrels would reach in up to their shoulders ferreting out the juicy morsels, and some of the white-morph petrels had red faces.

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We spent over 3 hours ashore, before returning to the ship for lunch. Some of the park rangers came on board with us to accompany us to the other locations (and to enjoy the fresh fruit which can’t be taken to the island for quarantine reasons!). The ship cruised south along the coast investigating a landing at Sandy Bay and hopefully a Zodiac cruise along the shore in Lusitania Bay, but in the end the weather was too wild for that to work.

Day 8

Still at Macquarie Island, this morning we made a landing at Sandy Bay. Unlike the area we visited the previous day which had quite a few animals, this location has lots of animals. King Penguin colonies, with lots of Royal Penguins due to their colonies being in the hills behind the beach. Also lots of Elephant Seals.

Royal Penguin colony
A short walk up the hill (on a boardwalk protecting the soil) was the closest Royal Penguin colony.

A2_185176 A penguin chick being ripped apart by skuas Royal Penguins Kings Young seals jousting A2_184314 A2_184651

There was fairly steady wind and rain for a while but while I was still able to shoot in the rain, by staying ashore as long as I could I was rewarded when the rain stopped (and my shooting frequency increased). Some people had headed back to the ship by then, but those of us who stayed had big grins on our faces by the time we had to head back. Those people who’d been cuddled by “weaner” Elephant Seals were especially happy.

After lunch we dropped the rangers back at their base, and headed northwest towards Campbell Island. This was another long transit, taking all of the next day.

The story concludes in Part 3!

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