notes from the field

No. 28 - Split

The low passing over packed quite a punch. We ran ahead of the leading edge after finishing the last trawl of the survey and slipped into Admiralty Bay. We put a Zodiac over and dashed into our field camp to retrieve some data sheets left behind when the camp was closed earlier in the season. We found the beach to be practically deserted; all that were left were a couple hundred fledgling Gentoo penguins still hesitant about getting in the water, a few adults finishing their molt, and a couple of young female fur seals who didn't look like they were going to make it. Several penguin carcasses gave evidence that skuas were still around picking off the timid. And high on the bluff sat several giant petrels, as big as skuas and albatrosses; several of the older birds were completely white in color. I hadn't been close to the massive glacier next to the camp in several years and was surprised to see that it had retreated a hundred feet or more and that the seaward edge was fractured and splintered into enormous blocks of ice.

We started back to the ship as the wind wound itself up; a standing chop of 4-5 feet quickly rose and plumes of spray blew off the tops of the waves. The ship made a lee and took us aboard as the wind howled out of the northwest across the island and down the long axis of the bay. We retreated in the face of 60 knot winds and hove-to up close to the south shore of King George Island. The wind blew steady at 50 knots for the next 10 hours and we could only imagine what it was like on the north side of the islands.

At first light things looked better and we ventured around to the north side. I wanted to get more imagery of swarms of krill and layers of lantern fish, but the swell left over from the storm was 15-20 feet, to big to deploy the cameras and hope to get them back, and we found little of anything with our acoustic sensors. But we tried for a day and a half before running out of time and calling it quits.

We said goodbye to these enchanted islands and started across Drake's Passage. We had done all that we wanted to do, seen all that we wanted to see, and it was time to do what every other creature was doing -- split. The big northwesterly swell is still with us and the wind refuses to settle, so we waddle along inching our way toward South America.


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