Western Antarctic Peninsula (Mon., 6/7/10) – Crisp Lettuce

So the boat has started to move again (pitching and rolling) as we begin our trip north to Chile and leave the shelter provided by the various islands along the Western Antarctic Peninsula.

The last set of visual observations concluded today in several bays on the northeast side of Anvers Island and in the Scholleart Channel. We’re still collecting some meteorological and acoustic data but we’ll stop recording that tomorrow when we leave the continental shelf around Antarctica and start crossing the Drake Passage.


There are still laptops set up all over the ship as data processing and analysis will continue until the ship hits the dock in Punta Arenas (and will continue after that but with all of us scientists scattered around the country), but the rest of the scientific equipment, supplies, spare clothing, and leftover coffee beans (amazingly there were a few!) are being packed up for the shipment back to the states.


We had a science wrap-up meeting tonight that began with a slide show by Maria Stenzel whose skill as a professional photographer is surpassed only by her amazing forehand slam at the ping-pong table (she’s my partner in the doubles tournament).  Many of her pictures show how amazingly beautiful the skies, ice, seas, and wildlife are here in Antarctica. What drew the most gasps, oohs, and ahhs though were the photos of us at work (which when you think about it, none of us normally see what we look like while we’re doing our science). Whether it was semi-frozen snowman MT Mark driving the zodiac, Ari practicing his d-tagging skills on Alison’s head, a row of visual observers with binoculars glued to their eyes, or MT Jullie’s mustang suit radiating a stunning red light; all of her photos reminded us of how special and magical this place is.


Several of us then presented a summary of the research that’s gone on here over the past 5 weeks as well as some (very) preliminary analysis. We heard about 100s of hours of tagged animal data, 100s of kilometers of survey effort from a 6 m zodiac, humpback whale songs that could best be described as appropriate for the first episodes of “American Idol” when the comments are mostly “Next” and “That’s a bit pitchy.”, circulation of water in and around the bays, more visual observations of birds and mammals in our cruise than you’d have in a decade of cruises in other parts of the world, and it went on and on.  Then our Chief Scientist gave everybody a sticker because they’d done a great job (well, we wish he did. He’d actually run out of stickers on the cruise already!). 


Life on a ship is weird but good.  Highly-trained scientists get excited about stickers, chocolate eggs, how awesome the cruise video is going to be, and what kind of dessert we’re going to have tonight.  You are in a limbo of having a highly regimented routine (meals served exactly at the same time day after day after day), with random moments of adrenaline and excitement (orcas spotted by the bridge, time to launch a zodiac for one last photo identification). You live, eat, work, and relax with 20-odd (that’s meant to refer to the number not the people) scientists and around 30 crew and you can’t get further away from anybody than 300 feet! There’s a lot of stress at times (Why isn’t this instrument working ?  Who finished the coffee and didn’t start a new pot ?  Did I really eat 4 desserts at one meal ?), but also some fantastic moments of meeting new people, seeing amazing sights, and discovering new things about the animals (including krill!) that live here. Almost everybody was up on the bridge this afternoon as the daylight faded and we got what was probably our last glimpse of the land, ice, and wildlife of Antarctica.


And this brings me to my final thought for this trip.  We still have crisp lettuce in the salad bar here on the ship!  I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated and astonished by this.  I can barely keep lettuce from going bad in a week and a half in my fridge at home and we’ve been out here for 5 weeks and the lettuce is still crisp.  Having said this, the fact that I’m blogging about lettuce instead of showing you amazing pictures from the last few days is a sign that it’s definitely time for the ship to head North and for all of us to start packing up our things and getting ready for our return to life above 60 S.




Last watch

The crowd gathers to watch the scenery as we head north. [Photo by Selina V.]









As dusk falls, the ice, mountains, and animals are still breathtaking even though we’ve been here for more than a month. [Photo by Selina V.]