Snow! The mountaintops are covered down to about 800 feet above sea level. The wind is calm, and the skies are clear, with temperatures as low as we have seen. Because of the good weather, we moved the Evohe over to Enderby Island, where the underwater visibility is better for photography. The darting team headed out in mid-morning, and the underwater photography team waited for better sunlight to get into the water with whales. Steve led a group of us ashore for a walk across Enderby to check out the wildlife onshore, and to look at whale distributions on the north side of the island. The north side is normally inaccessible for the Evohe because of exposure to the Southern Ocean winds an d swells.
Enderby Island had been inhabited by rats, rabbits, and cows (imported over the last century or so as food for stranded mariners) until the 1990's when a non-native mammal eradication program was instituted. That program was so successful that the island's native plant life is returning, and with it a surprising number of land birds. During our walk through the bush across the island we saw tomtits, pipits, bellbirds, a New Zealand falcon, and a red-capped parakeet (see photo). Up on the tundra-like bogs on the top of the island, we saw Auckland Island dotterels, a local sandpiper. Enderby is also home to a small southern royal albatross colony, large numbers of giant petrels, and both kelp and silver gulls.
The walk across the island is barely marked by signs - it starts in open fields of grass and sphagnum, with sand exposed by wind showing at the crests of each hill. The trail then plunges into the bush, a Rata forest that looks like the goblin woods of fairy tales, and is full of birds that rarely see humans and therefore allow close approaches. It emerges after another kilometer onto an open bog/field that appears to be hummocks of moss interspersed with wet sinks, rocks, and occasional low bushes.
At the top of the north side of Enderby is a small automated weather station, and below that is a large Hooker sea lion colony. However, on Enderby, the sea lions come out of the water and walk (well, galumph) on all fours far up into the interior of the island. When walking across the island, humans must be alert to the possibility that they will surprise one of these creatures, and that encounter might not necessarily end well. Some of the males can be quite aggressive, and apparently will chase you. In our walk we found sea lions 2-3 kilometers from the shore, and mostly they could not have cared less about us (Darn, humans again! Can't a sea lion get a decent nap around here?!), but every so often, we would come around a grass hummock, and a young sea lion would go harrumphing off, growling and barking its displeasure.
On the far side of the island (the north side), there are cliffs with massive kelp beds at the base. As one walks eastward, the land slopes downward to the sea, and there is an outcropping connected by a low plateau called Castle Rock (named for the ship Derry Castle, that was wrecked in March 1887, with 8 survivors rescued in July of 1887). This rocky plateau has several large tidepools, which appeared to be the nursery schools for frolicking young sea lions. On the plateau itself, sea lions sleep, males roam around acting important, juveniles socialize, and young animals practice herding one another. It is a marvelous panorama of undisturbed sea lion life.
Further around to the east, giant petrels were standing in the meadows looking like avian wildebeest (Doug Chadwick's description). These birds cannot take off without running, and they need to run into the wind, so when we inadvertently surprised them from behind (up wind) they had to walk away from us toward the shore. We found a few giant petrel carcasses on the headland nearby, so this must be a regular outpost of these birds. On the cliff edges stood yellow-eyed penguins, and down on the rocks, penguins and Auckland Island shags (a cormorant).
Just offshore, right whales were swimming, courting, slapping their tails and breaching. Within a half a mile of the coastline, we saw over 25 right whales, some just outside the kelp line on the shore. For this exposed coast the weather was surprisingly good, and everyone (birds, whales, sea lions) seemed to be taking advantage of the calm to sleep. Or perhaps we just arrived at naptime.
We returned by the same route, managing not to get lost (thanks to Matt's excellent guiding), and we strolled along the beach of Sandy Bay (not a sunbathing mecca). Steve and Kellie had bushwhacked their way across the island from the east, and reported that this was not a preferred route, requiring a fair amount of crawling under bushes, slogging through bogs, and getting scratched by trees and brush that objected to their passage.
Retrieval from the island was an adventure as well, timing the zodiac run-in with the swells, and leaping en masse from a kelp-covered ledge into the boat at the right time. Upon returning to the boat, we discover that Brian and Mauricio had had excellent luck underwater, and did not get mugged again by Moby P., much to their relief. The darting boat also had done well, and all hands were safely back aboard by 6 p.m. The weather was deteriorating, so the Evohe returned to the shelter of Erebus Cove for the night.
Brrrrrr from the sub-antarctic!
Scott Kraus and Roz Rolland