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11 December, 2003

With most of our work done, it was time for one last trip out to the ice edge. We made a short stop at Big Razorback to photograph some seal pups that had been swimming during Darren's last photography session. Most of the pups still at Big Razorback are now on their own. Their mothers have left and returned to the water to feed and take care of themselves, leaving the pups to literally 'sink or swim' as they figure out the finer points of foraging in a watery environment.

Today's performance at the ice edge was an all-Adelie one. They were waddling around in small groups on the ice, while other groups came porpoising past through the water. It's pretty comical to watch the porpoising penguins come up onto the ice. It looks like they've been fired from some underwater rocket as they self-eject from the water. They almost look startled to find themselves suddenly airborne and then plunk down on the ice. It's pretty wild to suddenly see 25 Adelie Penguins suddenly hurtling themselves from the water to the ice. There were a few spectacular mid-air collisions during the water-ice transition.

High pressure has settled over Erebus Bay this week, giving us clear blue skies and warm temperatures. It's springtime on the ice; the cracks at Big Razorback are getting wider, and the water is slush-free. You can hear running water, as any snow that remains on the rocky island is rapidly converted from a solid to a liquid, streaming over the rocks and dripping into the ocean. At the edge, chunks of broken pack ice are still floating, but open water is not far off. The last time McMurdo Bay was totally ice-free was 2000. Maybe this will be the year.

Daily Haiku:

One last icy cruise

Big Razorback and the seals

Penguins at the edge

The last chance for a picture with a Weddell Seal.

We have had an ongoing debate in camp about seal tongues. There are two groups; one that insists that the tongues are forked at the tip and one that thinks that they aren't. This photo proves it--you can see the slight v-notch indentation at the tip of this pup's forked tongue. Now if we could only figure out why.

Just another Adelie Penguin kind of an afternoon.

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