17 November, 2003
What we did today could best be titled "There might be seals out there!". The Bell 212 helicopter touched down shortly after 1 pm to take us across the bay to mainland Antarctica, to search the shoreline for seal colonies. We headed westward across Erebus Bay, heading north along the coastline once we reached the far shore. At last-we were over the continent, instead of gazing wistfully across the bay at the distant mountains.
As we flew north we passed over a portion of the Dry Valleys, the site for a wide variety of research projects that are part of the LTER (Long-Term Ecological Research) Project. To learn more about the Dry Valleys, you should read TEA Robin Ellwood's journals. Robin is in the Dry Valleys now, working on a research project.
Tidal cracks were visible along the shoreline, and we landed near Marble Point to check on a small group of seals. Our mission was to tag any pups that belonged to tagged females and to re-tag any females with broken tags. After seeing to the 8 seals that needed tags, it was time to set foot on the continent and take a short walk across a rocky bluff. What a monumental moment-we were finally really on Antarctica instead of just looking across at it. The views were excellent, in spite of the low-lying clouds. Mountain ranges rose to the west and in the distance we could see icebergs poking up through the solid ice-pack.
As we flew over the ice we could see the massive icebergs below, rising up through the ice and surrounded by piles of blocks that had broken off their faces. Our pilots used their above-ground radar to estimate the height of the icebergs. There was a small group of seals next to one of the bergs, so it was time to touch down once again. It's hard to describe what it is like to stand on the ice next to an iceberg towering around 150 feet above our heads. It was sort of like standing on a sidewalk looking up at a sleek, glass-covered skyscraper-only much colder and there are seals next to you instead of pedestrians.
After the iceberg stop, we continued north until we were almost even with the edge of the ice. The helicopters must stay over the ice and cannot travel over open water-just in case they are forced to make an emergency landing. We could see the jagged broken ice along the edge and as we flew closer we saw a large group of over 100 Emperor Penguins standing along the ocean. How can you resist landing to check out penguins?! Our pilots touched down near the penguin group and we piled out into the howling wind and blowing spindrift. The Emperor Penguins were as interested in us as we were in them, and immediately came over to check us out. We were soon surrounded by the Emperors. It was a photographic frenzy. I found out that it's really hard to juggle cameras-do I use the digital, my film camera, or just go with the digital video camera-especially when the cold winds are howling in from the ocean. When it was time to go the pilots had to herd the penguins away from the helicopter before we took off to head back to camp.
Now that we're back at Big Razorback I can look out across the bay and know just a bit more about what's going on over there.
Looking for more seals
Takes us to the continent
Watch out for icebergs!
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