29 December, 1996
After assaying the algae mats, we've found species from pools at Cape Chocolate that have anti-fungal activity. One of the values of doing the assays here is that we can recollect samples that shows evidence of interesting chemistry. This will insure that the lab at FIT will have enough raw material for a detailed analysis or to send to pharmaceutical companies. Of course Jenni, Chis, and I don't mind flying back to the site where we had Thanksgiving Dinner a month ago.
When we got into the helicopter, the pilot asked if we would mind taking a slight detour to see a pod of Killer whales. A Coast Guard Ice Breaker had been moving through the sea ice to clear the way for the Station's yearly supply of fuel and other provisions. Rich, the pilot, had heard that the whales were following the channel cut by the boat . It wasn't long before we spotted a pod of six in the channel and had the helicopter hovering a few feet above them.
In my work in the Gulf of Maine, I often see humpback whales. These large mammals have several hundred fibrous plates called baleens which hang from the side of their upper jaw. They swim through schools of their prey with open mouths, squeeze out the water, and swallow the food left on the baleen. They almost look friendly as they breach or show a tail fluke. The Killer whales, or Orcas, didn't look at all friendly.
The Orca is a species of toothed whale with a long jaw with rows of peg-like teeth adapted for seizing large and active prey. Around here they eat penguins, seals, and sometimes other whales. As we watched, they would come vertically out of the water and look around the ice for food. As one came up below us, we saw that it had a freshly caught penguin in his mouth which It seemed to devour in a single swallow. A few seconds later it was back to spying on the ice looking for more lunch.
The people that I've met here either love or hate this place, nobody is neutral. I've done and seen lots of unique and interesting things in the past three months and am one of the lovers of Antarctica. I'm not ready to return, my remaining time on the ice is much too short.
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