We sailed into the Golfe du Morbihan at dawn on a cold, grey, drizzly day. The dozens of islands (including Mayes and Cochons that we will visit) were to port, and a flat, featureless land to starboard. The TAAF base (Port aux Français, PAF) is a scatter of about three dozen buildings, some old and derelict (‘historic’) and many recently refurbished. The Marion Dufresne anchored about 500 m offshore, and it was a short helicopter flight before Charly Bost and I were at the base about 9 am.
Soon after arriving we met Côme Rebaudet, the 26-y-o very tall IPEV volunteer who will be the third member of the party heading to Cap Cotter (with Charly and I). There will be about 85 people on the base over summer. Everyone has a room to themselves with an en suite, with 8-10 people in most of the buildings.
I joined some of the other ‘ship’ biologists for an orientation tour. There were more than 50 young elephant seals near the base, and we saw a similar number of rabbits (introduced), including a few black ones. Also nesting kelp gulls (same species as our black-backed gull), a few southern skuas, and distant views of Kerguelen shags and a pintail [duck]. In addition to rabbits, Grand Terre (the main island) also has rats, mice, cats, reindeer and brown trout introduced.
We were hoping to fly to Cap Cotter (about 40 km to the north) at about 2 pm using the ship’s helicopter, but unloading supplies from the ship took longer than scheduled, and all flying was cancelled at 3:30 due to low cloud, so we ended up having our first night ashore at the base.
Charly and I located the diving petrel nest boxes that we will install on Mayes and Cochons Islands, and some smaller (62 mm diameter) conduit pipe ‘entrance tunnels’ that we will also trial. We then walked south along the coast a kilometre or so to a roost of more than 200 Kerguelen shags, mostly comprised of dark juveniles. There was also a sheathbill in attendance (they are rare on Grand Terre due to cat predation), and a pair of Eaton’s pintails nearby.
Dinner was a very nice buffet including locally-caught trout, preceded by a ‘welcome’ of rum punch and nibbles in the bar, and followed by a presentation by a team who had just completed a 4-week-long north to south and west to east traverse of Grand Terre. The main island is very large (about 7000 square kilometres), with the north-south and west-east axes both exceeding 120 km. We will set foot on just a portion of the eastern tip (Peninsule Courbet) and two islands in the extensive Golfe du Morbihan (Ile Mayes and Ile aux Cochons) during our month-long stay.
Te Papa curator of vertebrates Dr Colin Miskelly’s participation in seabird research programmes on the French subantarctic island groups of Crozet and Kerguelen was at the invitation of Dr Charly Bost of the CEBC laboratory (Chizé) of CNRS (Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique), France, and was supported by the Institut Polar Français Paul Emile Victor (IPEV) and Te Papa.
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