notes from the field

No. 22 - Crimson Berg

The Russians were very excited. Earlier in the day we saw off in the distance a red iceberg -- unmistakably red from 10 miles away! Everyone wanted to see what made it so, but I insisted that we continue with our trawls. If we worked hard, this would be the last day of sampling in the Elephant Island area before we moved on to the shelf surrounding the southern group of the South Shetlands. So on we went with the crimson beacon behind us just over the horizon.

We finished sampling late in the day and turned back at full speed for the final "scientific" investigation of the area. We would arrive just about sunset, but with the long twilight we should be able to tell what it was. Red is the color of mother Russia, indelibly imprinted on the psyche of her children -- this was no ordinary iceberg, this was a red one. Speculation ranged from red algae on the underside of an overturned berg to some horrible slaughter to a sign that the motherland will soon return to grace.

In the end it turned out to be a sort of 19th Hole for penguins passing by. There were hundreds of them standing along the ridge of a large sloping iceberg, and dozens more trying to get out of the water and up the slippery slope with each wave that washed up its face. They had all been dining on red krill and while they socialized about their day and ordered another pint from the bartender, they let part of their load go down the face of the iceberg. Enough of them had been doing it to paint a red billboard that could be seen for miles against the otherwise gray and white seascape. None of us had ever seen such a thing.


next episode