Yesterday we pulled into Palmer and effectively yelled “game on!” From 0800-1200 the fish team worked with LMG and Palmer crew to offload all the fish they had trawled and trapped over the last three days.
Meanwhile, Elliott, Pat, Roland and Reny were busy calibrating the transducers (for fine-scale prey mapping) in a small boat; and others helped Ari rig the antennae on top of the mast, which will be used to locate deployed D-tags. Dave spent the morning putting some finishing touches on the towfish. We were steaming back to Schollaerdt Channel by dinner, which is where the visual operations team had 12 humpback whale sightings three days earlier. Pending good weather, it’s a pleasant and protected area to work in small boats for D-tag deployment, acoustics, prey mapping and photo ID. We would be there by daybreak.
How can we be in Antarctica without watching the most quintessential Antarctic movie ever made: The Thing. Pop the popcorn, rally the troops, its show time! If there’s a better moral booster, I don’t know of it. I went to bed confident I could defend our research team of extraterrestrials (torch ‘em!), and I believe the rest of the team felt the same. However, I’m not quite as confident about dealing with zombies…
Well, the whole ‘pending good weather’ thing really does make a world of difference. The horizon started to illuminate at about 0800, and the wind was howling. It got worse before it got better. For the entire morning, we endured gusts from 20 up to 60+ knots. It was heavily snowing and visibility was 500m or less. The conditions were too harsh for small boat work, and visual surveys were intermittent. After lunch we decided to go south to a more sheltered area, hoping for workable weather. We hurried south across the Gerlache Strait and into Wilhelmina Bay. At 2pm we were in the middle of the Strait in a white out. The defeated visual team went off effort.
One hour later, the wind was down to less than 10 knots, sea state was Beaufort 2, and we had spotted a group of five humpback whales. We stayed in the southern part of Wilhelmina Bay for the next two hours and were surrounded by wildlife. Humpback whales were all around us. Gentoo penguins regularly flurried by (it doesn’t get any cuter than penguins), and a few seals were spotted. Antarctic terns, kelp gulls, snow petrels, giant petrels, cape petrels, Southern fulmars and sheathbills were all present today.
The last two hours we were in scenery that was completely foreign to me, and breathtakingly beautiful. The area was also foreign to our experienced captain and mates who had never sailed there before. The navigation chart has sparse soundings at best, so it was uncharted (literally) territory for all.
No pictures we will take can adequately convey the awe we feel in this ocean. Today we concluded in 360 degrees of snow and glacier-covered mountains; various sized icebergs of spectacular colors of whites, jades and blues; trails of brash ice; and sizeable but elegant snowflakes descending through the fading light. Humpback blows abound. What a perfect way to end a day that started out rather bleak. We left the bridge with a promise of an amazing tomorrow.
Meng and his team will spend the night mapping krill in Wilhelmina Bay with the ADCP (current profiler) while we steam northward through Plata Passage and around Nasen Island. We will be right back here in the southern part of the Bay in the morning; just one of Antarctica’s magically biodiverse areas.