Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Flandres Bay (Sun., 5/30/10) – A night in the life of a Palmer M.T
by -- June 1st, 2010

As I write it’s nearly 10:30 in the morning and I’m on latte number 2 (each with two shots of espresso).

I should also mention my green tea, three bottles of water, two slices of pizza, a bagel, and a delicious bowl of oatmeal.   I want you to know that I’m not alone in my seemingly voracious morning appetite.  I’ve been awake since 11:45 pm last night.  Ohh, some chocolate too, but the quantities aren’t really that important.

 

I’m on day, 22, or so, of my new job as a marine tech (technician, for long).  I’m one of five MT’s on board with two honorary MT’s that also share their time with being the Marine Science Technician (Lily) and the Program Marine Coordinator (Head Pooba – Jamee).  It may look like we have lots of important meetings over Latte’s and Mates, and well yes… it’s true.  We could tell you about all of the secret handshakes and other worldly important business… but,  they would no longer be secret if we did that, so… we’ll just give you a taste of a day in the life.

 

At midnight, us night shifters wake up for our first meal of the day, and the noon to midnight shifters’ last meal.  It’s referred to as mid-rats… short for midnight rations, but since I really don’t like rats, I try not to refer to it at all.  Rather, I wake up to my alarm at 11:45,  run a toothbrush over my furry teeth, pull on the same outfit that I’ve worn every other day for the month, and attempt to be slightly awake as I fumble my way into the semi full galley.

 

At the galley we get the “low –down” from our fellow MT’s Mark and Dan.  It often consists of  “they’ll be a couple of CTD’s” (short for Conductivity, Temperature and Density.. a rosette – metal pipe cylinder with instruments  – that goes to the depths of the ocean and returns with tales of salinity, temperature and other wonders).  I understand that they used to be called Salinity, Temperature and Density, but for some reason they changed the name.   Dan and Mark also tell us if we are going to launch one, two or three zodiacs, the weather, projects that need to get done, or all of the fun things that have gone on over the last 12 hours that we have somehow slept through.  (This category includes the TV series Weeds – that they all talk about and us night shifters don’t have a clue about.  It also includes so called “science meetings” that seem to be a time when the Head Scientist Dug throws chocolate eggs around the room (in an Easter bunny suit?), and other fun events; ping pong tournaments, late night saunas, film festivals, the list goes on.

 

You have to be hearty to work at night, we’ve decided.  It’s a small, elite crew of the rugged, and you better like eggs too.  They are served at most every meal.  We try hard not to suffer from F.O.M.O.,  a common disease for most night watchers.  It stands for “fear of missing out”.

 

After the meal that I don’t refer to, my watch mate, Jeremy, and I flip-flop CTD’s.  Flip flopping refers to the fact that one of us works the deployment, while one of us works on projects, or say, birthday gifts for their upcoming watch-mates’ birthday.  And then vice-versa when the next time to deploy comes.  Our job for deployment is a short stint of running hydraulics that open up a very large side door in the ship (yes, we tell the person driving the ship before we do this) and the careful deployment and winch operation by Ben or Danny our night shift AB’s (able bodied seamen, who are more than able.. they are very very capABLE seamen).  If there is ice outside this job requires making sure that the bergie bits don’t interfere with the cable.  If it’s clear, then we sit back, pay attention and read a book.  The CTD goes quite a ways down, (often 300 meters) so that our job lasts as long as the ocean is deep, then she comes on up, Jeremy and I flip-flop and it all happens over and over again.  Similar to a Ground Hogs Day.

 

As a waypoint in the darkness of the night watch we meet for four o’clock toast.  Although we really meet at 4:15 (am, that is).  Salads and light meals are saved from various other meals, and camaraderie and food are enjoyed by the krill watch (Eric, Salina, and Joy), the ET’ers (not extraterrestrial, electronic techs) Sheldon and Kathy, Jerry from the Engine Room and Brandon from the bridge.  Peter seems to work harder than the rest of us, and we have not yet enticed him to toasting.  We hope he’ll reconsider.  Toast topics have included learning about rodeo bulls from Brandon (He raises them in Texas), Joys aversion to dating people out of her age bracket (she’s in her mid-twenties), the miracle of Siamese bananas (documented by Salina), and a few harrowing dog mushing tales from my past life.

 

After toast o’clock it’s time for Jeremy and I to get to business.  It may seem that the zodiacs magically appear like wrapped Christmas packages delivered by Santa every morning.  But no, the elves have been busy.  Dressed in orange smocks, with snowy white hats; filling up gas tanks, packing lunches (thank you Nestor and Louie), filling up hot (hopefully) thermoses, shuffling gear, unracheting straps, hustling, bustling, whistling and snow ball throwing.  The krill crew, sadly deprived of midnight mocness trawls (as of late), have recently joined in the outdoor fun.  Shoveling walk ways, sweeping off boats, the whole nine yards.

 

By  6:15 a.m. or so the barista (Jeremy) is twitchy with anticipation of his morning duties.  Have you wondered why the MPC latte machine is always ready to go in the morning? Wondered why there is always a supply of nonfat, and full fat milk? It’s J. Lucke himself… foaming up the fluffy lattes for the a.m. coffee clutch.  The day shifting MT’s (Lily and Julie) bleary eyed and mumbling coffee, coffee come wandering down to Jamee’s office by 6:30.  The first three to arrive get the squeeze on the love seat., Maria, Joe and the rest of the crew have to settle for counter space.  Jamee settles into her Americano at her desk.  The tales, and teases of FOMO on both sides begin and the lattes dawn a new day (or something like that).

 

Boat launchOne safety meeting and breakfast later, it’s a rush to really get the boats together in time for the launch.  The launch is always scheduled for first light, an ever fleeting moment that comes seven minutes (roughly) later each day.  Today the sun rose around 9 am. Back when the weather was calm (before we prayed to all of the gods, and confused them all, and they sent, LOW after LOW),  it used to be a rush of scientists, versus Marine Techs, versus Crane Operators, in a game of “Who would be ready first?”  Usually, it really wouldn’t matter, since none of us moves without the other.  So when the boats are ready, Joe’s krill condominium is up, (It’s a little waterproof awning that looks like a blue telephone booth.  Supposedly used to keep his krill counting computer dry, although speculators might wonder what the hibachi and lawn chair have to do with krill.), and all are ready, we sling the tag boat to the hip (side of the boat, but not in the water) the MT driver of the day hops in, calls the bridge and thar she goes.  Lowered down to the drink.  She slides up the rail to the ladder, and with a couple of ferocious yanks on the outboard (many for me, I hate to admit), she’s ready for crew and accoutrements.  Loaded up, and off, off, off and away, they go.

 

Other days, just to inform, all of these steps occur, up to the crucial on the hip step.  In other words.  Vayu (the Hindu God of Wind) has a mighty set of lungs, as well, the barometer has a pretty low bottom down here.  Two days ago we had a 939 mb low (950 mb’s is often a hurricane in more northern latitudes).  Today we are at 960 mb’s.  Sometimes, all the preparation in the world just means a little more for the afternoon shift to disassemble.

 

Today, I was meant to head out in the krill mapping boat with Joe, Pat and Reny.  I was all suited up, in my Mustang Suit, toe warmers activated in my insulated XTRATUFFS (fisherman speak for brown rubber boots), but instead, it’s blowing a steady thirty with gusts to forty or so.  It blew all night and Jeremy and I skipped on zodiac prep, thinking “there is NO Way” as we CTD’ed in forty and more gusts.  But, at 6:30 lattes, the wind fell to four knots, and after two shots of espresso (and some mate for Jeremy) we capitalized on our caffeinated selves and flew into a tizzy of boat preparation.  The wind has been big for the last three days, and we are falling too readily into a pattern of prepare the boats, disassemble the boats.  But really, I have to tell myself, “It’s Antarctica.  It’s three weeks until the winter solstice and (you’ve seen the pictures) we’ve been lucky beyond words.”

 

Tomorrow, or maybe in just a few hours, a whole new look out a port window will reveal a whole new meteorological landscape.  Snow, sun, fair winds, calm seas, or more wind whipped waves.  Either way, there will be krill mapping on the ship, data gathering, ping pong, and merriment.  All’s well, aboard the good ship Palmer.

 

PS:  I want to admit.  The biggest thrill of this trip for me has been in driving the zodiacs.  In specific, a day three days ago where we followed two elusive whales for nearly three hours before one gave us a break, and lollygagged at the surface, as if waiting to receive our tag, until we idled from a school bus length away.  After Ari gently slapped the tag on the whales back, the whale magically (okay you can see I’m not a scientist) disappeared and then promptly reappeared offering itself up for a biopsy that was also expertly cross-bowed.  The opportunity to move so closely to these whales and to witness their enormity, grace, and quirkiness has been absolutely incredible.  To witness these whales, in this pristine, remote environment is truly an opportunity I am honored to be a part of.  To do this, with the greater good of learning more about these animals, their prey (the krill) and this ecosystem is more incredible yet.Whale silhouette

 

PPS:  My oldest nephew has been printing out photos from this blog and sending back poems to the ship… Hope you all enjoy them.

 

Your Ship

Your ship is Big and it is wHite. The siDe is Red.

the end

Penguins

PeNGuins aRe blAck AND wHite. I Love PenGuins.

tHe eND

 

CrabeAter SeAl

CRAbeAteR seAls Are cute. They Are seALs.

The eND.

 

Hope to see you on the water, or at four o’clock toast.

Cheers-

Kelley, Scout, and Owen (the poet.)

5 Comments

  1. Courtenay
    Jun 3, 2010

    A note from O

    I love you. owen

  2. Courtenay
    Jun 3, 2010

    You have FOMO?

    Really? Let’s see, I have a sister in Antarctica, parents in Italy and a 5-year-old published author. Hmmm… who’s feeling it?!
    Enjoyed your post this morning (6:30am!) with my coffee in hand. I’m sure the resident poet will send you a note when he awakes. Enjoy your stint – looking forward to more stories upon your return to the PNW.

  3. Diane Meyer
    Jun 3, 2010

    Kelley’s Blog

    Kelley~ You amaze, and delight me. You are truly remarkable. Thanks for sharing your tales. You loved here where the home fires burn. XOXO,Diane AKA: Toot

  4. Elaine Wells
    Jun 3, 2010

    Hi Kelley!

    Thank you for writing such wonderful blogs. I am so happy you are having such an incredible experience. Thank you to Courtenay for sharing this blog with us. I love you and miss you!
    Love,
    Elaine

  5. Mom
    Jun 7, 2010

    Hi, Kel! We’re home!

    Hi, Kel–

    It’s 1030 pm in PDX, but 6:30 am tomorrow on our biological clocks. Just walked in the door and read your blog. It’s great–and wonderful to hear all about what you are doing. Glad it’s going so well. It will be nice to hear your voice soon. We’ll have lots of stories to exchange. Love you and miss you,

    Mom

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