June 7, 2009
After eating breakfast and getting ready for the ship to leave at the first light (10 a.m.), I walked between the Bio Building and the dock and what do you know?! A massive crabeater seal was lying right next to the path! It was so incredible to be so close to this creature. The seal was just lying there, but seemed to be out of sorts somewhat. Upon closer inspection in the low light, I could see many gashes on its sides. And it looked at me as if it were asking for help, shivering as it lay in the snow. I was immediately concerned for the poor guy and went and asked Dave to come and check it out. Everyone was taking pictures of the seal and Dave assured me that the gashes were normal. The seal had probably gotten in a fight with a leopard seal and these were the battle wounds. He also assured me that the salt water would do wonders for the flesh wounds. I still wanted to help the poor thing, but realized there was nothing that could be done. This was definitely a send off Palmer Station Wildlife style!
At 9 a.m., we were all on board for the crew to start the departure process. At 10 a.m., we went on the back deck to wave to all the friends that were staying at Palmer. Many of them will be the "overwinter" crew staying until next September. The LM Gould ship will make one final supply run from Punta Arenas after we are dropped off and then it will be September until the next ship returns! Tradition is for those on station to jump off the dock when the ship departs as a send off. I was amazed at all of the participants! Ken, Webster, Neal, Sean, Craig, Jeff B, Pat, Will B, Marin, Kris and OMG, is it really?? No way. It really is...Mark Furnish! The one person that has not jumped in the 15 years he has been coming down here and he actually looks like he is going to do it! It only took some harassing statements from a few of us, like, "You are not really going to let the girl from Alabama show you up!" to convince him that it was time to take the plunge! Wow. I really did not imagine this one and am so proud of him! What fun! They jumped in and immediately ran up to the hot tub. We waved our final waves and then dodged the flying snowballs that were coming from all directions on deck! The snowball war was on and lasted until all the snow had been scraped off the upper and lower decks!
As we traveled through the Gerlache Strait, several of us were up on the bridge soaking in the last of the beautiful Antarctic scenery while keeping a lookout for wildlife and whales. I spotted a few humpback whales in the distance and a little while later, Ari spotted several Arnoux's Beaked Whales off of the stern and got pictures of a subgroup in the distance. Amazing! This is the second sighting of these rare whales that the whale team has observed on this trip! What a truly special event!
Throughout the day, I was able to catch some final beautiful iceberg photos all through the Gerlache Strait and the Neumayer Channel. Being able to capture all those wonderful shades of blue that I had always wanted to see firsthand to verify from my National Geographic magazines. Even as we are leaving our two-month research expedition, I still have difficulty believing that I have been so blessed to see and experience the grandeur of Antarctica, but I will have to pictures, videos and memories as proof!