After bad weather delays, we left Stanley on Tuesday 18 December on the MV Pharos SG. The Pharos acts as a deterrent to illegal fishing and inspects legal fishing vessels, as well as assisting in the movement of people between South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. The work of the Pharos as a patrol vessel means its exact location is not supposed to be disclosed – which is why this blog was delayed a few days.
On this trip, there were 11 scientists on board, including Cath Waller and her PhD student, Jack Buckingham, from the University of Hull, who are investigating the impact of marine plastics in the food web, Jess Phillips, Oxford University, who is doing tagging on Macaroni penguins, and Kelvin Floyd (Indigena Biosecurity International) and Pamela Quilodran who are doing weed control and eradication work for the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) and working with Kew Gardens. Plus there was our SG right whale crew: Jen Jackson (BAS), Connor Bamford (BAS), Amy Kennedy (NOAA), DarrylMacDonald (Clear Blue Photo), Stephanie Martin (Environmental officer for Tristan da Cunha) and myself.
By the morning of December 21 we were definitely in whale territory. Humpbacks were visible from the galley portals at breakfast time, and then again in small groups later in the morning, this time spotted by the eagle-eye Patrick, crew member of the Pharos. By late morning, there had been a change in the wind, bringing fog and the end of whale spotting activities for the day. The next morning dawned with better visibility and we found ourselves offshore of Bird Island, at the northwest tip of South Georgia. Jess went ashore to the BAS station (pictured) and gear was moved to and from the station by the Pharos crew on RIBs. After lunch we were underway again, and were regularly spotting small groups of humpbacks, as well as fur seals and penguins. We expected to reach the BAS station at King Edward Point by evening. Thanks to Commander Gerry McLeod and crew of the Pharos for getting us safely to South Georgia!
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