South Georgia Island was circumnavigated in 1775 by Captain James Cook some 5 years after his discovery and mapping of the East coast of Australia. Upon landing on the Island he claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Great Britain, and named it "the Isle of Georgia" in honour of King George III.
Later in the 19th century, South Georgia was a sealers' base as well as a whalers' base beginning in the 20th century, until whaling ended in the 1960s.
Norwegians established the first land-based whaling station and first permanent habitation at Grytviken in 1904. The station remained in operation until 1965.
The whaling stations were unpleasant and dangerous places to work. One was called "a charnel house boiling wholesale in vaseline" by an early 20th century visitor. Its "putrid vapors resembled the pong of bad fish, manure, and a tanning works mixed together” according to the same source.
The Islands claim to fame came in April 1916, when Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition became stranded on Elephant Island, 1,300 km southwest of South Georgia. Shackleton and five companions set out in a small boat on a dangerous mercy dash across frigid stormy seas. After weeks at sea they landed on South Georgia's south coast. Shackleton and two others went on to cover 35 km overland, across a mountain range, to reach help at a Norwegian whaling station. The remaining members of the expedition, who had stayed on Elephant Island, were subsequently rescued. In January 1922 Shackleton died on board ship while at anchor in King Edward Cove, South Georgia. He is buried at Grytviken.
A more recent incident was the Falkland wars between UK and Argentina in 1982 that was also fought on South Georgia. On 3 April the Argentine troops attacked and occupied Grytviken. The island was recaptured by British forces on 25 April. In 1985 South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) became a separate UK territory.
Besides fish and whale meat there isn’t much locally produced food on the Island. Norwegian whalers that longed for some variety in their diet brought 10 reindeer with them and released them on South Georgia Island in 1909. The offspring of these reindeers are the southern most reindeer in the world and have subsided of the lichen and small plants found on two large peninsulas on the north coast of South Georgiaa ever since and have now reached a population of over 3500 .
This herd of Antarctic reindeer are restricted to the peninsulas on the north coast by the geography of the Island with a high mountain range that run the length of the Island and glaciers that bisect it from the mountains to the coast.
However South Georgia like many places in the Arctic and Antarctic has experienced the effects of recent global warming and the glaciers on South Georgia Island are retreating, some by as much as 4 km over the last 50 years. Thus the natural barriers to the spread of the reindeer are rapidly being removed. With the present rate of glacier retreat the reindeer population that are now restricted due to lack of lichen grazing land is set to explode and the reindeer to spread over the whole of the 160 km long island with mountain peaks above 2,900 meters.
In response to this population boom a program for the eradication of reindeer was proposed by the British Commissioner of SGSSI. The eradication program is starting this southern summer with 10 indigenous Sami reindeer herders from Norway, Sweden and Finland, being hired for their expertise in herding and culling the reindeer, are travelling from the Arctic to the other side of the world.
Instead of using all the modern technology the Sami use for moving their herds in the north like helicopters, four wheel all terrains vehicles, and snow mobiles this cull is going to be done with minimal environmental impact using the old ways.
Besides the reindeer, in their natural environment, is one of the most environmentally friendly grazing animal. A reindeer do not feed on grains or hay. They subside on single cell protein derived from the algae within the lichen they eat. The reindeer is an animal with a very small environmental hoof print.
However a question that I have not found the answer for is where the meat and furs and antlers from the culled animals are going to go. When slaughtering reindeers all of the parts of the reindeer is normally used by the Sami. Perhaps this is a business opportunity for some entrepreneurial Australian that wants to import low fat nutritious meat and furs of the highest quality from free-range animals raised in a pristine Antarctic environment.
Finally the parallels of the proposed slaughter of the alien reindeer by the human predators to the movie franchise Alien vs Predator are tenuous at best. But in this case the reindeer are Alien to the Antarctic environment. Moreover the movie was set in an abandoned whaling station on an Island in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. The Aliens in the movie were brought to this remote location by the Predators to provide light entertainment for the Predators and fans of sci-fi movies.
So in 2013 we are going to see the real Aliens versus Predators on South Georgia Island but alas the Aliens are not going to put up much of a fight.
Dr Roger Kalla is the Director of his own Company, Korn Technologies, and a stakeholder in Australia’s agricultural biotechnology future. He is also a keen part time nordic skier and an avid reader of science fiction novels since his mispent youth in Arctic Sweden. Roger is a proud member of the Full Montes bike riding club of Ivanhoe East.