Sometimes Internet connectivity is touch and go when you are trying to send something from the southern most continent on Earth. These are blogs from Wednesday and Thursday of last week. More to come soon!
Wednesday, December 14th, 2011
We are greeted early each morning by the voice of expedition leader Larry Hobbs over the ship’s public address system saying, “Good morning everyone, it’s another beautiful day in Antarctica!” Not only was the day beautiful, we marked the 100th Anniversary of the Roald Amundsen Party reaching the South Pole today.
Our group geared up early for a Zodiac tour of the bay around Enterprise Island. According to the expedition notes, the island got its name to commemorate the “enterprising success” of whalers operating in the area. This location was a major center of the industry from 1916 to 1930. One of the vessels operating in the waters around Enterprise Island was the whaling ship, “Gouvernoren” that caught fire and sunk around 1915. Today that ship is great habitat for nesting Antarctic terns. We were afforded many great birding opportunities including a few Chinstrap penguins.
|Enterprise Island Gouvernoren wreck|
After a chance to recharge our batteries, both literally and figuratively, we headed out again at Cuverville Island – home to thousands of breeding pairs of gentoo penguins. These guys are every bit as entertaining to observe as the gentoos at the Tennessee Aquarium. Two noticeable differences: Many of the gentoos on Cuverville are covered in filth. The nesting sites are pretty muddy, but the birds seem quite content when they are not defending their nests from egg-stealing skuas. Several were seen flying off with stolen eggs to a raucous cacophony of calling by upset gentoos. Rocks were being carried around by many of the penguins and I even saw a few carrying small sticks, bits of moss and a few small blades of grass.
|Gentoo Rookery- Cuverville Island|
The snow was slushy as we hiked up the rugged hillside above the main rookery. We had fun sliding down the hill, but apparently the penguins prefer walking downhill rather than tobogganing down the slopes on their bellies.
Thursday, December 15th, 2011
Visiting Palmer Long Term Ecological Research Station
There was a patter of raindrops on my cabin window this morning. Through the light showers, I could see the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research Station across Arthur Harbor from Le Boreal. Rain in Antarctica – yet another face of the “White Continent” we are seeing at the bottom of the Earth. Rainfall is becoming more and more common in this part of the Antarctic Peninsula. And it is one of the many things scientists are studying at Palmer Station.
We began our day with a Zodiac tour of the harbor, cruising through “brash ice” before spotting southern elephant seals, one of the six species of seals that live in the southern ocean. These guys are giants, sometimes reaching five tons in weight. Most of the elephant seals we saw this morning were juveniles, lacking the trunk-like noses of the mature males. These elephant seals were molting, or replacing their fur. They are amazing animals to observe, even though they don’t move much once on land. In spite of their size, most elephant seals are rather shy and docile.
Did you know that a 10,000 pound elephant seal is not the largest Antarctic animal? If not, what is?
Senior educator Julia Gregory and the kids who are part of The Tennessee Aquarium’s Bug Club: http://www.tnaqua.org/Education/BugClub.aspx will be interested to know the answer.
It’s a trick question, because the answer is an insect called the wingless midge, which grows to a whopping three millimeters in length. This insect lives its entire life cycle on land, so it can be considered Antarctica’s largest animal. Entomologists have been coming to Palmer Research Station to study these amazingly hearty larvae for quite awhile now. They want to better understand how these creatures can survive being frozen, almost completely dehydrated and how they can be deprived of oxygen for long periods of time without perishing.
We also saw an Adelie penguin colony along with a few chinstraps and some gentoos. Researchers at Palmer Station have been tracking a rather rapid decline in the Adelie populations in the past several years. This is caused partially by the rainy weather that occurs as eggs are being incubated or when the chicks begin to emerge. Ideally the eggs and young would experience cold and mainly dry weather, but warmer and wetter conditions have been happening with more frequency. Gentoos are also moving farther south into the Antarctic Peninsula.
Everyone aboard this Abercrombie & Kent expedition had a portion of their cruise cost set aside to purchase a piece of scientific equipment for the researchers at Palmer. This year’s gift was handed over to them aboard Le Boreal.
It was an international affair, as Dr. McClintock invited one passenger from each of the twelve nations aboard this cruise, to join him on stage to present this new tool to the scientists.
|Tour of Palmer Research Station|
We toured the research station, including their Aquarium. Unfortunately, the researchers that will be collecting and studying sea creatures will not arrive until sometime in January so we were not able to get up close and personal to ice fish or sea stars. The staff met us for brownies and coffee at the end of the tour and answered all of our questions before we returned to our floating home away from home.