Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wildlife Nature Photography in Antarctica

Antarctica is one of the most mystical destinations on the planet and every year thousands of tourists now brave the elements and cruise to Antarctica to take in the stunning landscapes and amazing wildlife. For photographers it's a wildlife photography opportunity like no other. For the smartest shooters, the best destination of the lot is actually only half way there...
Every year, as the first warming rays of spring sunshine strike Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean, life begins to stir on its rocky crags and amid its course tussock grass. Within weeks of the last snow melting, Australia's sub-Antarctic outposts teems with wildlife. Millions of sea birds noisily jostle for nesting space while, on the beach, elephant seals compete aggressively for mates.
But wildlife is not the only invader of this remote, 32km long and 4km wide island, midway between Tasmania and Antarctic. Scientists from the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition arrive each spring to join personnel who have wintered on the base. During the next few months they record almost everything that moves on land and sea, taking a census of the island's wildlife and studying the island's plant life and geology.
Of recurring interest are the 4 species of Albatross that breed on Macquarie. These majestic birds, which soar effortlessly over thousands of kilometres on 3 metre plus wingspans are threatened in large part because they often become entangled in the fishing lines set by long-line tuna boats.

A study of the elephant seals is also ongoing -- about 2000 pups are tagged and weighed each year and several are fitted with satellite tracking devices. There is some concern about elephant seal numbers as well, which seem to have fallen in recent years.
Macquarie Island was discovered in 1818 by Australian sealer, Frederick Hasselburg, who names it after the then Governor of NSW, Lachlan Macquarie. It was used as a radio base by Sir Douglas Mawson during his Australasian Antarctic Expedition from 1911 to 1914. In 1933 the Tasmanian Government declared it a wildlife sanctuary.
Rabbits introduced be the early sealers for extra food, and feral cats... probably escaped from visiting ships... have been a continuing problem on the island. There are ongoing programs to eradicate them, but progress is slow. (Update: In recent years the cat eradication program has finished, but the removal of the cats has seen the rabbit numbers drastically).
Four types of Penguins breed on the island... the King, the Gentoo, the Rockhopper and the Royals. The Royal Penguins are the most prolific, with approximately 850,000 breeding pairs.
The 100,000+ King Penguin population is the 4th largest in the world and the sight of tens of thousands of these large penguins packed onto a single stretch of beach is a sight that stays with you forever, ( as does the smell!).
In 1990 7000 king Penguins died after a stampede in the colony. (Suspicion for the stampede initially fell on a low flying Hercules transport plane but later reports attributed the panic to thunder or a sudden attack by a feral cat or leopard seal).
Of everyone who experiences life on Macquarie -- whether it's the Ranger who spends up to 17 months on the remote island, or a visitor on a cruise to Antarctica who comes a shore for a few brief hours to capture some amazing wildlife photography -- very few could sail away unaffected and not feeling extremely privileged.


Post a Comment