This morning we woke up in Neko harbor (one of the places that a glacier cam was set up by James Ballog) and I spent about half an hour in the quiet of the bow of the ship, taking in all of the glaciers and enjoying the near silence. Taking a moment to reflect in this land of ice and sea was the perfect way to start the day.
I think it’s been the experience of many guests on board the ship that it seems like each day is the best and you don’t know how they could possibly top it. And then the next day comes and they find a way. Well today held true to form and was by far my “highlight moment” for the trip. Alberto, the undersea dive specialist found me and said that he was going out in a zodiac with the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) if I wanted to join him. Of course I couldn’t pass up that chance and I strapped a go pro to my chest and headed towards the dive locker. The zodiac is outfitted with a metal enclosed structure in which all of the computer equipment has to be loaded. We quickly loaded up the equipment and were ready to head off in search of a good place to launch the ROV. It can dive to about 1000ft, but it was recommended that we don’t go below ~800ft in case of complications.
Shortly after we launched the ROV we had an unexpected (well sort of expected) visitor; a Minke Whale decided to come and investigate our boat!!!! He literally swam so close that I could probably stick my hand out and touch him! And he didn’t just do it once! For a couple of minutes he just kept circulating each time coming around for a look at us and putting on a show. Needless to say it was awesome!
This afternoon was a landing at Dorian Bay, the site of the landing strip for Port Lockroy. In addition to the penguin rookery (they are everywhere in Antarctica, you see bare rock and there will be a penguin rookery) there was also a couple of huts. Both the British one that had been used to wait for airplanes when weather was bad and the Argentinian one were stocked, and the British one could be toured.
This afternoon felt like the Antarctica that I had imagined. There was wind and driving snow and visibility was way down. I was very appreciative of our faux fur collars! While standing and watching the penguins, I had an opportunity to talk to Stephanie (assistant expedition leader) about the effects of climate change on penguin populations and one particular point she made stands out in my memory as I write this. Antarctica is a cold dessert and therefor the precipitation levels are typically very low. As the climate changes there are seeing more days like today where there is precipitation in the form of snow. Baby penguins start their life with a downy layer of feathers to help keep them warm. However much like down sleeping bags, as soon as they are wet the feathers loose their ability to retain heat. She says that as summer goes on, if there are many more days like today that the mortality rate for the babies will be quite high.
Happy Boxing day everyone!