Episode 3 – Things I didn’t think I’d ever do

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The Ocean Tracking Network and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA, France) are collaborating on a study of the successful colonization of the remote French Kerguelen Islands by brown trout, introduced to the region in the 1960s. The project presents a unique opportunity to study large-scale colonization by a species in the context of climate change and glacial retreat.
Colin Buhariwalla is an OTN Masters student at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Over the next three months, Colin will be conducting acoustic range tests and documenting his time on the Kerguelen Islands. Colin shares his unique experience at this remote research site through comedic updates and poor grammar (though mostly edited below). These are his stories…

Where to begin?  I always have trouble starting these things because so much has happened. Let’s start with things I didn’t think I’d ever do..

1)      Drink from streams/lakes. At home there is always the worry of Giardia lamblia, causer of ‘Beaver Fever,’ whenever thirsty in the field, so water is always carried wherever you go. In Kerguelen, you look for the furthest inland penetration of elephant seals, head for the waters above them, and fill your cup. The water is typically crisp, fresh, and cold if sourced from RAPIDLY running mountain stream. It is, by far, the best water I’ve ever tasted—followed very closely by the well at Grandma’s in East Bay.  If the brook/river has a shallow gradient or is surrounded by bog, the water has an earthy taste and, while still tasty, isn’t nearly as refreshing–although, the occasional chunks of moss are always interesting to discover.
2)      Eat raw meat. Add another two Canadian faux-pas to the list: last week, we had steak tartare. I, with my limited knowledge of world cuisine, had heard of steak tartare, but didn’t exactly know what it meant. Take a hunk of raw ground beef, make an indentation in the dorsal surface (almost like a doughnut, but not all the way to the plate); crack an egg, discard the white, pour the yolk into the excavated meat; liberally apply olive oil, capers, onions, mustard, and whatever else may be on hand, to the pile of raw meat/egg madness. Voila, steak tartare… or for me, everything I’ve been told I shouldn’t eat unless thoroughly cooked.
The plates of the practiced French were quite well constructed with the yolk sitting neatly in the steak and the toppings placed neatly on the side or sprinkled on top; however, my Franken-steak tartare was a jumbled mess of broken yolk and scattered toppings sprawled over my plate. Either way, it was delicious AND I didn’t suffer from the dreaded gastrointestinal distress or salmonellosis promised at home… maybe we should adopt a similar food treatment practices for ground beef and eggs in Canada?
3)      Eat lots of raw fish… outside of a restaurant. Lot’s of cultures enjoy raw fish and I am a fan of sushi, but I never thought I’d nibble at little chunks of sea trout (Salmo trutta) as the fish was being filleted. Not many unprocessed (catching and cutting aside) foods are as tender or taste as sweet as a sea trout straight from salt water to chopping block; the meat, not salty but still infused with a sea taste, melts in your mouth. On top of the raw chunks, we’ve also been experimenting with ceviche. Take the fillets, slice off bite-sized pieces, put in a shallow pan with salt, crushed bises rose (rose hips?), dill, and drizzled in limejuice. Now, this is supposed to sit for 12+ hours, but we’ve only managed a max of two.

In addition to raw trout, we’ve been eating a lot of oven-baked trout, pan fried trout, trout fillets, trout steaks, whole trout, trout for breakfast, trout for lunch, trout for supper.  An unusual meal for me has been cold trout with mayonnaise (from a toothpaste-like tube, naturally) topping and Tobasco.. it’s actually quite delicious!

February 2, 2016 – back at base
We landed back on base yesterday (Feb 1) at 1400 from our trip to St. Malo/Korrigan. Our January 26th departure was a painful 0430 (4:30 a.m.) rendez-vous on the jetty for a 0500 push off on l’aventure II. After 2.5 hours of pounding waves and 60knot winds, we made it to our destination at head of a cove nested at the base of a waterfall (our source of water). After a much needed cowboy coffee (instant coffee/camp coffee) and a quick excursion to gather mussels  (Mytilus edulis the same kind we have in nova scotia… another delicious invasive species here on Kerg) for supper, we bode farewell to a party of three who were off trekking in the sideways rain and merciless wind. We headed for a nap to wait out the rain.

After lunch, and the rain had subsided, electrofishing the adjacent waterfall yielded a shocking discovery… the elusive juvenile Kerguelen Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutchi); we also found them in another adjacent river. Coming down off the high of the Coho, we went fishing. I set out along the estuary shore, not having much success—my only Kerguelen fish to this point was a 15-20cm resident brown in Riviere de Sud—until I spotted the spot of all spots. The spot was an undercut bank 2–3 meters deep at a bend at the mouth of the river where the tide is the dominant factor at play and it would be difficult to fish come low water. The spot reminded me of the ‘Salmon Hole’ in the West River, Antigonish estuary; although, not comparable in size, the feeling was the same. The feeling you get when you see a spot that ‘looks fishy’—to those that don’t fish, it’s a spot that has the potential to hold river monsters (subjective to the fisher) and you feel quasi-confident you will catch something. Now Christophe—our new maniper (Kerg word used to describe people working on field projects aka ‘manips’) to replace Pancho who fractured a vertebra on the zodiac ride from hell—was fishing upstream. I pointed to the spot, Christophe nodded and indicated he wasn’t going to fish there. My first cast landed in the garden (vegetation on the side of the bank) on account of the 30 knot winds, but the second cast landed next to the bank right where I wanted it. I slowly retrieved the orange Meps spinner (#4) and just when it approached the bank, I saw a silvery mass slowly move towards it and smash it!  The fight left a lot to be desired, but I was using heavy gear and horsed the fish in.  Christophe, seeing the splashing and excitement, was quick to lend a hand at pulling the fish up onto the bank just as my line snapped at the lure. Luckily, the 84 cm TL  5.35 kg trout was landed for our feast of mussels and trout.

We left St. Malo the next morning to hike to Korrigan, scaling the cliffs of the cove and descending into the Korrigan watershed (check out the .kmz). We fished along the rivers and lakes at the head of the system, but a waterfall downstream acted as a physical barrier and the first lake and tributaries yielded nothing.  Below the waterfall, where we stopped to eat lunch and dip a line; the brown trout were thick for the rest of our manip. The hike to Korrigan was 16 + km, but it seemed like much longer since the whole trip was spent looking down navigating over tennis ball to basketball sized rocks. When looking down you see lots of bones (typically rabbits, cats, and terns) and, observing the scarcity of vegetation in most places, recognize the fragility of life and harsh existence for all things on Kerguelen.  We got to Korrigan to find a nice little two room—one for living, one for gear—cabin complete with outhouse and amazing view of the estuary and river valley (see attached pics).

From Korrigan we launched a few short trips to inventory the lakes and rivers around the cabin and in the estuary in the front yard (more trout than you can shake a stick at). A highlight from this time was when I hooked a beautiful sea trout that fought and danced like you wouldn’t believe, but lost it at shore when the sinker detached itself from the spoon. It was a blow to morale since we were looking for fish for supper and my favourite lure was lost. After supper—yes, we managed to catch another trout for food—I walked along the intertidal zone at low water in the hopes I would spot the lure that the trout may have spit when it broke free. After 10 minutes or so I saw a silvery flash in the algae. To my surprise, there lay the trout  (59 cm TL) I had lost earlier and the lure was still in its mouth. This puts fins to figures with the reality of post release mortality—not all fish you release survive.

Our big trek from Korrigan (2016-01-29) was to an adjacent valley (approx. 19 km round trip) to electrofish a few rivers that had not been inventoried before.  The trek to the river was long and challenging, as we had to navigate the cliffs of a large lake and cut over some hills into the next valley. The rewards when we arrived were numerous: the stunning views of the valley, surrounding hills, and cabin with people off in the distance (very comforting to know that, after 4 or 5 days of the same 4 people, there are other people semi-nearby); watching a herd of reindeer forage on the cliffs around us; shelter/sun provided by the valley; andddd the juvenile Coho we found!!!! As soon as we walked the river—more of a babbling brook—we saw lots of fry and parr. We fished and turned up huge numbers of juvenile Coho, the first of their size to be sampled on Kerg—only adults had been caught to date. This indicated that, while adults had been caught in the vicinity in the past, we had found a Coho spawning river. We were all excited at the discovery, except for the skuas that constantly harassed us to leave the vicinity of their flightless chick.

A few highlights from Korrigan include: watching the Commerson Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus commersonii) while fishing; discovering that garlic and mashed potatoes is not a pair well known by the French (although, raw egg is?); mussel picking off the rocks; and as always, the trout.

Almost done…

The zodiac picked us up yesterday morning and shuttled us to l’aventure II, which was doing the milk run picking up/dropping off manipers and supplies around the islands of the Golfe du Morbihan. We sped along in the zodiac for 20 minutes, weaving in and out of the islands and watching the wildlife (cormorants, giant petrels, albatrosses, dolphins, etc.), before meeting up with l’aventure II. I was wondering how the transfer was going to work when suddenly the zodiac cut hard to the port (left) and sped toward the port side of the other boat. We came along side l’aventure, matched its speed, and snugged the zodiac up against it. We transferred all gear and people (like you see in movies, but with less grace), and then the zodiac was off in search of more people to collect.  I have some really cool video of the encounter and will post when I get home.

That’s enough out of me. We’ve got a 7-day manip starting tomorrow and we have to be ready for the zodiac at 530 (sun comes up at 415 or so). Fingers crossed it doesn’t snow tomorrow…

Much Love,

Colin

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