Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Lockroy Station (Thurs., 6/4/09) – A super happy something or other
by -- June 5th, 2009

So today was Andy Read’s birthday. What a mess that was.

I woke up early, about 5am, worried I was going to be the last one to start the all day boozin’ that’s usually associated with the occasion.  To my surprise, no nudity, no screaming and running around, no blaring music and keg stands, just Victor, the electronics tech, and an otherwise empty ship. Everybody was asleep.

Who knew?

I thought everyone might be in the hold playing beer pong, but when I ran through screaming “READ RULES!” I was met with only an echo.  The party hadn’t even started yet.

Maybe things were a little hazy from last year, but nonetheless I remember the nonstop ticket to trainwreck town left bright and early the morning of Andypant’s birthday day.  Where was the parade? Where was the panda shaving competition? The spirit of Andy’s birthday was somehow seriously forgotten.  I must do something.

I got on the phone right away, calling my old friend Doug Nowacek. He’s the big man around here, sometimes I drop his name to get a good table at midrats, sometimes I drop his name to get things done.  Every now and then, I gotta drop his name, to him.

“Doug, wake up. Doug sent me. Says it’s Andy’s birthday and there’s no party.”

“What? Do you know what time it is? Who is this? Chance? That’s it I’m sick of…”

“LOOK DOUG, maybe you didn’t hear me, I’m calling because Doug Nowacek, the chief scientist, said you needed to get something together for Andy’s birthday. This is serious, there’s not even penguin baseball, no toothfish tacos, nothing’s right, you’ve got to do something.”

“I am Doug, I mean, this is Doug, what are you talking about? It’s 5am!”

“And! nobody’s drunk yet.” I knew I had made my point because Doug hung up.  You drop Doug’s name, things start happening. Enough said.

(99) Stocking Up

stocking up

Five minutes later Doug shows up in the galley, shirtless. “ANDY READ ROCKS” still wet in safety orange painted on his stomach, head shaved into a crooked mohawk, clumps of hair still hanging on his shoulders.

“Where’s the pudding?” he confounded, his maniacal grin fading

“No pudding.” I replied

“No pudding? Well jelly, then, certainly jelly…”

“No Jelly.”

“What the… I thought I was going to be late…”

“I know right? That’s what I’m saying, do something.”

“well, I mean… like what? Should we set the ship on fire?”

(some people need a lot of guidance)

“Doug, Christ, put the torch down, we can’t light the ship on fire until midnight anyway, it’s tradition. How about we take a break, go ashore, hang out, have a barbecue… wait… isn’t Dave from Hawaii? Lets luau a whale! DUDE! It’ll be gorgeous, look, I got it all worked out…”

“Luau, with a whale? You mean Kahlua pig… with whale? Are you nuts? It takes forever to cook a pig Chance we’ll never have time. Not to mention I have to check but I think that might be against the ACA”

“Don’t be such a quitter. Even if it doesn’t work, whale can’t be all bad raw.  Just try to follow me here…”

Over the next twenty minutes and a lot of scribbling on scratch paper, I finally convinced Doug that we should stop by at the seasonal port Lockroy station now empty for the winter and check things out.  Awesome was in the air, and things started happening.

The ship heeled over, hard, the Nowacek/Bridge conversation had been brief: “Port Lockroy, step on it or I step on you.” Soon we were doing 11 knots towards the most visited place in Antarctica.

Port Lockroy is an old whale processing station. You can look through tens of meters of crystal clear water and see actual whale bones from years back.  It’s truly amazing, very humbling, and in a way, sad. Both Doug and I knew this hallowed whale graveyard would be the perfect place to spark up a delicious party.  We arrived in the first boat, before the unsuspecting Andy, and started preparations.  There’s a museum of sorts there with all kinds of tools for maintaining the place in the back; including bits of dynamite from the original construction effort back in the day.  We had to act fast; so Doug and I hashed out the duties as quick as possible.

“You, whale. I’ll dig us a hole and get things toasty. Don’t screw around we don’t have time” Doug spat out, exasperated after kicking in a  locked tool shed door and wrenching open a nailed box labeled “TNT”.

“Whale? You’re the whale guy, Doug, I’m the MT, let me blow stuff up, you get the whale.”

“Don’t argue. You know who I am?”

“Yes Doug…”

It sucked when he remembered.  I hoped he wouldn’t make too much of a mess as I fired up the zodiac and hammered it for the nearest spout.  The whales here are so thick, I knew finding one wouldn’t be the problem, but bringing it back would.  As the logging beast quickly grew larger on the horizon, I’d have to think fast.  An explosion blew bits of rubble into the zodiac from kilometers away. Doug used too much dynamite again. Amateur.

Thirty minutes later I was back, forty feet of hydrodynamic neutral buoyancy moving as fast as the 40 horse would go dragged behind the boat.  I swung out of the way and let its momentum float it close to shore.  Doug waited, completely covered in soot, standing like the devil in front of a glowing hole in the ground.  The museum was gone.

“Don’t ask” he said. “How the hell did you make it back so fast? How did you get the…”

(100) Whale Skeleton

all that was left

“Don’t ask.” I replied. “I blew its mind with the “what wouldn’t meatloaf do for love?” question and put it in a sleeper hold. Forget about it, just help me get this thing in the pit.”

Now I’m no wimp, and Doug hits the gym every morning, but I’m ashamed to say the two of us had a hell of a time pulling that whale out of the water and setting it into the coal pit.  We finally had to use an old hand crank winch on the beach; I’ve got to lift more often, getting chubby. By the time the kids made it ashore we had the beers cold and that whale so hot you could smell it from the ship, turns out Doug managed to melt down some kind of nuclear reactor they had been experimenting with.  Nuking a whale is like deepfrying a turkey, done in 30 minutes. Pure awesome. By the end of the day, things were nearing happy birthday Andy normalcy, pudding and all.

And to think; it almost didn’t happen, Thank you meatloaf and shady energy sources; and Happy Birthday Andy!

1 Comment

  1. Duane
    Jan 4, 2010

    Birthday Celebration

    Hey I was doing some searching around and came across you post about being out at sea and having a birthday to celebrate. It looks like the day was a hit after all with the slow start. What a great way to celebrate a birthday, aside from the whole orange paint on the chest, shaved head and all. It looks like you all know how to celebrates one birthday. Keep it up till the next birthday!

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