Life Aboard Ship, Dispatches From South of the "Roaring Forties"

Life Aboard Ship

#19 July 14, 2004

#18 July 11, 2004

#17 July 6, 2004

#16 July 5, 2004

#15 June 30, 2004

#14 June 27, 2004

#13 June 23, 2004
Bouvet Island

#12 June 20, 2004

#10 June 16-17, 2004
South Sandwich Islands

#9 June 13, 2004

#8 June 9-10, 2004

#7 June 4-6, 2004

#4 May 26, 2004

#3 May 23, 2004

#2 May 19, 2004

#1 May 16, 2004
Punta Arenas, Chile

May 14, 2004
Landfall: Visiting Islands in the Atlantic Ocean

June 16, 2004
South Sandwich Islands

May 30, 2004
Falkland Islands

May 26, 2004
Science on the NATHANIEL B. PALMER

June 24-26, 2004

June 15, 2004

May 30, 2004

Questions & Answers

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

I am in Grytviken, South Georgia (for cruise map, go to We arrived here around noon after spending yesterday and all night sampling to the northeast in Right Whale and Rosalita Bays. The first thing I have to say is WOW! The many on board who have been to Antarctica told me this was not as spectacular as the Antarctic Peninsula, but for me it's quite amazing.

Yesterday morning I was awakened by my cabin mate, Steven Young, a graduate student from Birmingham University (UK), who told me we were in South Georgia I couldn't quite get my eyes open then, but he came back again a few minutes later and I decided I had better get up. I looked out of the port and saw a massive wall of rock streaked with snow going up into the clouds (about 500 feet altitude, I think). I got into my clothes as fast as I could, grabbed my binoculars and my "outdoor" camera (it is a Panasonic digital with a 12x stabilized 35-420 mm telephoto lens), put on my heaviest sweater, polar fleece vest, parka, boots, gloves, and hat and rushed up to the bow. I stayed out so long I skipped breakfast. I can eat anytime.

The old whaling station at Grytviken, South Georgia.
When I got out on deck I saw what was, I think, possibly one of the most wonderful views I have ever seen. We were in Right Whale Bay on the northeast coast, setting fish traps and trawling, and it was snowing steadily. The Bay is a fiord with steep walls, and on the places where there were beaches (or rather, more gentle slopes; "beach" is kind of misleading) there were thousands of king and gentoo penguins with an occasional fur seal, elephant seal or leopard seal. We had a few fur seals, penguins, and the native ducks around the ship along with icebergs and floes. Ducks, shags, and sheathbills (sort of like a pigeon but brilliant white) flew around us occasionally, too. It was not too cold (a few degrees below freezing) but a light breeze and the snow made my fingers cold enough to hurt in an hour or so, so I went back in and warmed up. When my watch was on duty (1200-1800) it was really a pleasure to be out on deck working with snow falling and surrounded by the spectacular scenery. We made a tow with the Blake trawl, an otter trawl, and picked up the fish traps that were set early in the morning. The results were not too good although we didn't tear anything up or lose any gear, we got hundreds of pounds of glass sponges (this type of sponge has a skeleton formed of siliceous threads and cannot be handled without thick gloves or your hands fill up with glass slivers that cannot be removed!) and only a few fishes. And of course, it was a calm sea because we were in protected waters, and that was nice too.

This morning I spent at the King Edward Point laboratory of the British Antarctic Survey. One of the scientists there, Suzi, and I are collaborating on a study of snailfish egg-laying in the local deepwater crabs. I "met" her about 6 months ago when another correspondent of mine wrote to tell me that the lab had collected some crabs with snailfish larvae living in them, sent me her e-mail address and suggested I contact her if I was interested. I immediately did. I had wanted to study this curious behavior for years, but had not had the chance. Suzi wrote back enthusiastically and we planned a joint study using new specimens she has and those she thought she could collect from the fisheries observers in South Georgia waters. By a wonderful coincidence, I was actually going to be here and today we finally met in person. We had a great time looking at fish, talking, and walking around the lab and the long-abandoned (since about 1960) whaling station.
She has been saving snailfish adults and larvae that the fishery observers have collected, and they will be extremely useful. At my suggestion, some of the larvae have been preserved in ethanol for genetic analysis. Because the larvae do not have adult characters, they can't be identified using just physical characteristics. Genetic analysis allows us to match eggs and larvae to adults. Then we can describe the eggs and larvae so they can be identified using the "usual" characters. In addition, she has been keeping some of the larvae alive. She started with over 20, and two are still alive after 3 months, so she must be feeding them the right things: egg yolk, shrimp meat, and some fresh plankton once a week.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The cemetery where explorer Ernest Shackleton is buried. His stone is the grey one in the upper left.
Last night the ship hosted the station personnel for dinner, and the lab had the ship crew and scientists over for a party at their bar. There are 12 staff members of the British Antarctic Survey here at KEP (including a doctor), and the scientists stay for two unbroken years; support staff stay for one. Those times are uninterrupted by vacations to anywhere else. They perform scientific studies, license and inspect the toothfish trawlers, provide medical services for fishermen when needed, run the Post Office, act as Customs and Immigration for visiting ships (quite a few smaller cruise ships stop here in the summer), and everything else you can think of that might occur here. All of them "wear at least two hats", and they are very versatile people indeed. They get mail and some supplies once a month or by serendipity from other planned visits by ships, and have e-mail but no Internet or telephone except by radio. It's a spectacularly beautiful location, but very isolated, so they are quite self-reliant and have to be able to cooperate with each other. I think this would be difficult when kept indoors for days by bad weather in the winter when days are very short, but there is no choice - they do it. They were all uniformly cheerful and it was clear they had formed a unit. They share housekeeping duties, so they rotate responsibilities for cooking, cleaning, "night watchman", etc. A few weeks ago they held a South Georgia Half-Marathon in which all or almost all of them participated. Suzi and I will be in contact by e-mail and we will be able to send specimens and information back and forth through the Falklands, but irregularly and at relatively great expense. So, we have to organize now to make this work efficiently.

We leave at noon today, so I'm going to cut this off to go and work on some fish with Suzi. More news in a few days!