Showing posts from 2010

A Green Christmas

I've never experienced such contrasts.  For two and a half months, our crew made Antarctica home, or at least as home as Antarctica would let us.  The sea ice, where we worked, lived, and slept, became as familiar to us as my backyard in Idaho.  The uninhibited white stretched before us everyday, as we went about our research amidst the groaning seals.  We became accustomed to the cold temperatures (but did not complain when conditions got "tropical" by the end of the season).  The immense Mt Erebus, steamingly eyeing us from above, although always awe-inspiring, became part of the backdrop.  The things that were so striking and surprising when we first arrived, became part of the daily routine.  It's as if we've only ever known daylight to be constant for 24 hours.  To become comfortable in a place, is to make it home, at least for the vagabond biologist, and that's what the field camp at Big Razorback Island in Antarctica became.

But suddenly, our crew foun…

Skua Tug O War

Can anyone guess what they are using as the "rope"?

Seal Pup Surprise

At the outset of my arrival in Antarctica, I intended to update my blog regularly in such a way that my readers could gain a better sense of the seal research we are doing and of the on-the-ice lifestyle.  I have failed miserably(!)...however, I hope that what was seen here was eye-opening, interesting, and/or entertaining.

As of now, our crew has 3 more days in Antarctica.  We fly from McMurdo to Christchurch, NZ on Dec 15, and thus will end the 2010 Weddell seal field season.  However, I intend to keep updating my blog with some of the season's highlights and excitements as time goes on.  It is also worth it to keep an eye on (or check out if you haven't already) Mary Lynn Price's Weddell Seal Science website, although it will remain dormant for a few weeks to come as she resumes video editing in a month or so.  Or you can just check back here for updates on that.

For now, I will treat you to another pup video.  This taken at Turtle Rock two days ago.  Most of the momm…

Seals by Air

Most of our research is accomplished by snowmobile every day, but occasionally, we have the opportunity to work from the sky.  This video was captured during two helicopter flights, one to find any seals hidden behind ice pressure ridges or large ice masses that we missed in our first tagging efforts, and another to find any tagged seals outside of our study area (at Tera Nova Bay) to assess the amount of emigration out of the study population.  The resulting video is nothing special, in fact, it is very poorly done, as I am just learning the ropes of video editing (using Adobe Premiere Elements 9) and don't have a lot of time on my hands (apparently, editing video can take a very, very long time, at least in my case!).  I provide no distinction during the video between the two flights, but first half is in an A-Star helicopter and the second half is in a Bell helicopter.

The tiny black dots on the edges of the islands and cracks are seals!!
To make the video BIGGER, click on it AG…

The Ob Tube

At temperatures below freezing, the water below the ice is crystal clear.  The sun shines through the ice above emanating colors of blue, green, yellow, and orange, accenting the deep blue of the watery world below.  A large jellyfish slowly pulses its path through the water.  The edge of Ross Island can be seen, dropping down to the depths; scattered along its underwater slope crawl bright red starfish and sea spiders.  White, flat, and shoe-lace-like, large worms creep along the sediment.  Shrimp-like critters (amphipod? decapod? copepod? I'm not a marine biologist!) swim placidly through the water column and along the underside of the ice.  Tiny, silver, antigregarious (I make words up sometimes) fish are spaced throughout the water column, moving would too if you were so cold!  *Interesting side note:  Antarctic fish have anti-freeze proteins they use to keep the water inside their cells and blood from freezing, since the temperature of the water is below…

Learning to Swim

Part of the process:

Video and editing thanks to Jessica Farrer, Weddell seal technician

Pura Antarctica

The summer sun, in its seemingly-perpetual circling of the southern-most continent, like a halo being drawn and redrawn across the margins of the sky, has begun its deconstruction of the frozen seas.  The sea-ice edge creeps closer into Erebus Bay, the once frozen and hard layer of ice being stripped clean off the surface, revealing the depths of ocean below.  The northern-most edges of Ross Island, not long ago like a mountain rising from a plain, now lay bare to the wind-tossed sea.  The melting ice must bring joy to the Adelie penguin's heart, for no longer does this short, excitedly gesturing penguin have to traverse miles on the ice upon its short legs to find its colony at Cape Royds.  Now, the hurried penguin can take a relatively short waddle-jaunt to claim its prime nesting spot in the colony.

Further inland (or "inice," as the case is here), vast stretches of flat frozen ocean still lay firm and strong.  As the summer slowly sneaks forward, the tidal cracks alo…

Tagging the Seal

"bleh!" says pup.
"Blehhh!" says mom.
Thus greeted, the Weddell seal research team takes their positions.  One man armed with tagging pliers, one man ready to distract the mom (or alert the tagger that "mom's a'comin'!!").  The process is usually over in less than a minute, and results in another tagged seal pup, adding to the over 20,000 individuals tagged in the past 41 years of this study.

It is a fascinating endeavor, to go out on the sea ice of Antarctica seeking every single new born pup in our study area and to tag them.  The process:  "look there's a seal over there with a pup!"  Upon approach, we check the seal's colored tags, which are placed on the rear flippers.  If it has both tags and the numbers are readable (for each tag is inscribed with a number, so that each seal has a uniquely numbered and colored tag, and thus each seal can be individually identified), we gear up for tagging the pup.  This new life on the ic…

Weddell Seal Science video blog

For those who have been unaware, and have been waiting desperately for new posts on my blog (much honest apologies!), there is a place to go to allay your desperation!

This year, the Weddell seal research team is fortunate to have Mary Lynn Price on board, who is an esteemed videographer of science and educational materials.  She has already uploaded several videos to the Weddell Seal Science blog documenting the many aspects of our research project in Erebus Bay!  Also, you can get video podcasts on iTunes, just search for DiveFilm HD Video.  Also here!  Check them'll be pleasantly surprised!

And I'll just throw this in:

Boxes on the Ice

It's 2 am.  I have to go pee.  I try not to bang my head on the ceiling or do a body slam on the floor as I groggily crawl and ease myself down from the top bunk in the men's sleeping hut.  I slip on my down booties and open the door.  "Aaahh! my eyes!" I exclaim (quietly and to myself, since everyone is sleeping).  Bright light harshly greets my blinking eyes.  "Huh...the sun is shining."  This surprise is met by another, and just as fiercely.  It's FREEZING outside.  I run towards the bathroom (called the "Center of Excellence"), making sure to glance up at Mt. Erebus, glowing in the sun, a small wisp of steam coming from the volcano's crater.  Crunch, crunch, crunch...I keep running...crunch, crunch, crunch...the sound always reminding me that I'm walking on sea ice overlaying, well, the sea (and who knows how deep).  To my right a subtle, distant moan reminds me that we have neighbors.  Twenty seals lay sprawled out on the ice, al…