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15 December, 2000

Did You See Any Penguins?

That is the question that I get most often. I usually answer that the penguin rookeries are several miles north of McMurdo and that the sea ice still covers the entire sound. One researcher I talked to has been to Antarctica eight times without seeing any penguins. So I didn't feel so bad.

Two nights ago I walked out to Hut Point and was treated to the sight of a Weddell seal frolicking on the ice. Last night I finished my e-mail around midnight. I thought, "This is probably my final night in Antarctica. It is my last chance to see a penguin." I felt strangely confident that I would be successful.

As I came around Scott's Discovery hut I thought I glimpsed a head bobbing down on the ice. When I reached the top of the hill by Vince's cross there it was, a little Adelie penguin waddling along! I scanned the ice for others but there wasn't another creature in sight.

I was surprised at the speed at which the little fellow was traveling. Then it plopped down on its belly and began to paddle forward, sliding along at an even greater pace. I would have had to do a fast jog to keep up.

I tried to follow along on the shore but I had to double back through town. By the time I got down on the sea ice by the old runway road, the penguin was still going south, alternately waddling and sliding as it went. I wonder where it was bound.

My other excitement of the day was accompanying Jerry Bowling and Jesse Fisher on a helicopter ride out over the Ross Ice Shelf. I know Jerry from Siple Dome. Jesse is from Washington University. They were going to pick up a seismometer that they deployed several days ago. It is one of several that they have installed this season. They are studying the structure of the Earth's crust in the region.

This is the midnight view from Hut Point looking out over the sea ice on McMurdo Sound. You probably can't make out the penguin, which is a black speck just to the right of center.

Extreme close up of the penguin. Not an impressive picture but it was sure cool to see.

Here I am in the Huey two-twelve at about 2000 feet flying at a speed of 105 knots.

We are about 150 km (95mi) south of McMurdo Station on the Ross Ice Shelf. While the flight crew waits by the copter, Jerry and Jesse check the seismometer. They are curious about the data it will record since the ice sheet is floating rather than sitting on bedrock.

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