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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University of Wellington. Vol. 24, No. 5. 1961

Campbell Island Expedition, 1960-61

page 3

Campbell Island Expedition, 1960-61

Contributed by P. R. Wilson, a science student at Victoria University, who is a member of the Animal Ecology Division, D.S.I R. He studied introduced animals for (he Division during his stay on Campbell Island.

On December 27, 1960, H.M.N.Z. Endeavour sailed out of Wellington harbour with two scientific parties aboard.

I had the fortune to be a member of the party to disembark at Campbell Island. There were seven in our party.

The three botanists were concerned mainly with the mapping of the predominant vegetation types on the island and also collecting and preserving plants. One of them was involved in a little peat-boring.

The two marine biologists were concerned with collecting specimens from both fresh and salt water, and also studying intertidal relationships in the harbours and on the open coast (a somewhat hazardous job!).

The youngest member of their duo, a Canterbury University student, also did a little skin-diving, using a waterproof rubber suit and ample clothing underneath. His experiences with Elephant seals and a sea-lion did little to damper his enthusiasm.

The remaining two members, a wool biologist from Massey, and myself, from Animal Ecology Division, attempted to census the feral sheep population, and also to study interelationships between vegetation, sheep and nesting birds.

Five days after leaving Wellington we sailed slowly up Perseverance Harbour at Campbell Island. We had been almost have-to for one day at two-three days out, and during this time, and for the rest of the trip, we were thrown from one side of the mess to the other. Now and then one could see, up on deck, a courageous individual propped between two stays, staring with glazed eyes out to sea and making a poor job of looking as if he was watching birds.

As soon as the ship dropped anchor the Met. Station's boat pulled alongside and greetings were exchanged. The Met. boys looked as if they had been through a rougher sea than us (it was New Year's Day).

This is my Island ...

Soon after most of the stores were off, our party disembarked amidst a war of camera shutters, fervently hoping we would never see the Endeavour again. There were also some land-hungry looks from some of the southbound boys.

Campbell Island lies approximately 375 miles south of New Zealand. It has an area of 42 square miles and two relatively long harbours, both opening to the east. Perseverance Harbour is the largest and main one, and very near the head of this harbour, situated under Mt. Beeman, is the present Meteorological Station. The island in the sun, as it is affectionately known by Met. personnel, has a mean temperature of roughly 40 deg.F., high humidity, and rain over not less than 300 days per annum.

Snow falls in the winter, but does not lie very long, and wind is one of the phenomena that the island would not seem the same without. Several times we were lifted bodily and dumped by an exceptionally strong gust of wind. Waterfalls readily defy gravity, and "flow" straight up into the air from a cliff edge, and one can very easily confuse this behaviour with that of a column of smoke.

However, on the whole, we experienced days usually with uncomfortably strong winds, especially on ridges, cool temperatures and rain, although not necessarily all day. We had three good days, with bright sunshine, warm temperatures and little wind.

Living Quarters

The present Met. camp is luxuriant, compared with the old 1941 camp. There is a large hostel, with a big kitchen and a huge living room. Other buildings, for various meteorological recordings, are scattered fairly widely over the flat area below Mt. Beeman. This station has a personnel of 11 men, usually only staying one year.

Our party stayed in the 1941 camp which is about one mile from the present Met. camp. Until recently this camp was, according to reports, in good condition. However, some misguided person ordered the place to be destroyed, presumably because at the time of occupation the buildings were plagued with rats. Consequently several of the buildings, Including the generator and shed, were completely destroyed, and the camp in general was a shambles.

However, after cleaning out the main living quarters and doing a little carpentry tacking polythene sheeting over broken windows (every window), the camp was quite habitable, and held the seven of us much more comfortably than the antarctic-type tents we took down would have.

Glories of Nature

The whole island, apart from the rocky outcrops near peaks, is covered with a blanket of peat. This is in places deeper than 20 feet and generally must be from 10ft. to 15ft. deep. For the first week, slopping through this in heavy boots, took a lot out of us, and we would stagger in late at night, have a hurried bite to eat and perhaps one, or preferably two or more, rums to "warm up" before climbing into the sleeping bag. Owing to the cold days, the rum stocks dropped alarmingly.

The General Picture of Campbell Island is a Drab One. There are Few Contrasts, and it is not Until One Looks at Individual Plants that One Realises that there are Some Very Beautiful, Species Present.

Pleurophyllum speciosium, a large showy purple flowered plant;, with P. cruciferum, P. hookeri, and two hybrids of these, are perhaps the most outstanding. There are, of course, many other surprisingly attractive plants, akin to some of our alpine vegetation.

Another unique feature is the bird life. It has been estimated that there are about 4,500 breeding pairs of Royal Albatrosses nesting there, and apart from a few nests on Auckland Island this is the only place in the world where the birds breed.

Wild Life

Molymawks, skuas, giant petrels (nellies), Rockhopper Penguins, Wandering Albatrosses, Antarctic Terns, and other's also, nest on or around the island.

Elephant Seals, Fui Seals, and Sea-lions breed on the island, and the swift and very vicious-looking Leopard Seal is an occasional visitor.

There were some very large and evil smelling Elephant Seal wallows in the vicinity of our camp, and although none of our party had the misfortune to fall in, the O. in C. of the met. camp "slipped" in one night after a visit to our camp with some of the met. boys. Apparently for a couple of days anyone wishing to speak to him, naturally selected and jealously guarded a windward vantage point.

The month we were on the island passed very quickly. All botanical samples, marine samples and the sheep-gut samples, were in just on time, and the census of the sheep completed.

We spent one last gay night being farewelled at the met. camp, and then were shipped out on a United States destroyer, U.S.S. Wilhaiti. We left on January 31 and arrived at Dunedin on February 1.

One quick look at the "deputation" at Dunedin wharf, and a taste of the type of reception the American sailors would get, almost convinced us that we should have borrowed some uniforms for the day.

P. R. Wilson.

Sports Editor s Note: Wo hope to have Easter Tournament covered in Issue 6.