May 23, 2007
Before I tell you about today, let me tell you what happened yesterday. I was so excited to get all the seal tagging details I actually forgot to tell of my minke whale encounter. Yesterday the ship entered an ice field while hunting for a Wedell seal that had hauled out after a night of feeding. An ice field is pretty much composed of large chunks of pancake ice all pushed together, the ice being about 8-12 inches thick. The ship, which is an icebreaker, is supposed to break through the ice and it does do its job. The small zodiac boats are lowered into the water, and there is not all that much open water - mainly ice. As I was sitting in the zodiac, a minke whale, about 12 foot long, surfaced right next to me. He was 3 feet away and blew, took a breath and circled a few times enjoying the open water we had created. That was pretty cool in itself, as we were breaking ice with the zodiac which is not an easy task. Here you have a 12 foot inflatable boat with a 60 hp motor trying to go through packed ice 8 inches thick. This is slow going. By doing this, we had created some open water. A 5 foot diameter circle of open water was exposed off the side of the boat when out of nowhere, the minke whale came straight up through the hole, less than 1 foot away from me, looked around, and blew whale blow all over Megan, a marine science technician. Her reaction was, "Whoa - whale snot all over me." Not many people in this world can attest to getting whale snot on them, especially Antarctica whale snot. I got a little of the spray but not near as much as Megan. Just another cool experience on the bottom of the world!
Getting back to today, when I woke up and looked outside, Mother Nature has turned on us. The temperature was 18 degrees with 50 mph winds, snowing with a wind chill of minus 48 degrees. Not a good day to catch seals, it was decided early on that there would be no operations today. We will try and wait the weather out because we do know there are seals in the area. Here is a sobering fact. We are the only ship that is in this region of Antarctica at the moment. That means if we were to get into trouble, it would be 5 days before a ship could get to us. I was talking to the captain, and when we go into these fiords looking for seals, they are constantly watching the ice conditions. The wind could change and blow the large ice bergs into the fiord and trap the ship. He has heard of instances of that happening, and of a ship being trapped until spring (3 months from now). This crew is very safety minded, and I am confident that I am in great hands since they have a ton of experience down here. I probably just scared the heck out of my mother, I hope not. Well, it is back to my book and waiting the weather out.
This afternoon I was reminded of my childhood growing up in the harsh winters of northern Iowa. My little brother and I would play in the house all day mainly because it was too cold to venture outside. My mother would quickly tire of us being in the house and she would say, "Go outside and blow the stink off." Being good children we both would bundle up and stand on the front porch looking at each other. My brother would say, "What do we do?" and I would respond, "Stay here until we quit stinking." We stood on that porch until mom let us back into the house. I did bundle up and stand on the deck as I was blowing the stink off. The wind was a little bone chilling, and I sure didn't wait for permission to come back inside. Tomorrow is another day. Sailing on.