Saturday, 6 February 2016

A day with Penguins and Seals on Macquarie Island - Oliver Simms

A day with Penguins and Seals on Macquarie Island

While working in an office for most of last winter, I resolved that I would do something completely different in winter 2015/16 and take the majority of my leave over the Christmas period. I did not entirely know what, but when I saw the Enderby Trust Scholarship advertised, I thought I would give it a go. The scholarship gives under–30s the chance to travel on a Heritage Expedition voyage to the Subantarctic at a substantially reduced price.
In mid-October I was informed that I had been fortunate enough to 'win' a place on the "Galapagos of the Southern Ocean" expedition to Campbell, Auckland, Macquarie and Snares Islands. I immediately sorted out flights and a week's travelling around New Zealand as I prepared for what I knew would be a great trip.

I am writing a separate full trip report but there is simply too much to cover in a single blog post so I have decided to focus on one special day, spent on Macquarie Island. The island is technically part of Tasmania despite being over 1500 kilometres to the south east. It is now uninhabited apart from an Australian Antarctic Division scientific research base.

I was not on the island to do scientific research but to admire the vast colonies of penguins and other seabirds. I was fortunate to spend two days in this wonderful place and the first in particular will live long in the memory.
The weather was absolutely glorious so I was up early full of excitement. An early trip to the deck produced my first Southern Giant Petrel and the endemic Macquarie Shag.

At about mid morning, the zodiacs were launched and we headed to Sandy Bay, the site of the vast penguin colonies.

I spent the whole morning in the bay photographing the numerous Royal and King Penguins and Elephant Seals. I’m not really a photographer and I just have a basic Canon SX40 bridge camera but even I managed to get some decent results (in my opinion at least!). The Royal Penguin babies were particularly cute but my highlight was a baby Elephant Seal that tried to suckle from my knee! We had to go back to the ship for lunch but I spotted my first Black-browed Albatross from the zodiac.

After lunch, I eagerly took up the option to return to Sandy Bay for the afternoon. I spent a lot of time watching the penguins swimming in the seaweed pools and decided to scan them regularly. This paid off to an extent as Edin (fellow scholarship recipient and young birder) and I found a couple of Rockhoppers but there was no vagrant penguin like a Chinstrap or Macaroni. That was perhaps somewhat over-optimistic.
Reluctantly at 5pm, I had to tear myself away from Sandy Bay and take a zodiac back to the ship. This brilliant day was however not finished yet as from the Zodiac, I spotted a large splash and shouted that it was too big for a penguin. 

Alex, the guide, then shouted Orca as we disembarked on to the ship. I was a bit confused as I definitely saw a large blow as well but as we got on to the ship we had superb views of a pod of ten Orcas breaching as they chased seals. We watched them for a fair bit - long enough for me to run in and call people who were in the restaurant but not long enough for those on the next zodiac to see them. This was a spectacular end to a spectacular day.

I would like to thank Rodney Russ and Heritage Expeditions again for giving me such an amazing opportunity. Applications will probably open again in August for scholarships for voyages next winter and I would urge any NGB that can to apply. If you want to know more, feel free to drop me a message.

- Oliver Simms


  1. And so say all of us. Well written article but you have to go and experience this for yourself.

  2. And so say all of us. Well written article but you have to go and experience this for yourself.