Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Typical Day for an Oceanites Researcher

The morning of 12/16/08 began with a quick breakfast at 0700 before heading to my cabin to outfit myself for the day. Long underwear and windpants, t-shirt, fleece and outer shell for clothing. One pair of regular socks and one pair of thick socks and a pair of rubber boots for the feet. Sunscreen, fleece hat, University of Montana baseball hat (Go Griz!), scarf, and sunglasses for the head. A pair of fingerless gloves rounds out my clothing. The front pouch on my outer shell is filled with pencils and notebook, sampling supplies, and two way radio. Then I filled my backpack with camera, spare gloves and hat, monopod, and assorted field items. Around my neck went the last couple of items - the ship ID (to check in and out of the ship) and my high tech penguin counting device (a small metal clicker). Then I headed to the mud room on the ship to put on my life vest, grab the snowshoes, and catch our ride. That morning Tom Smith was out chauffer to a small island near Cuverville Island were a few small colonies of Chinstrap Penguins are located. The wind was blowing a good 20 knots and our mile ride to Orne was a bit choppy and wet as we cruised through a kingdom of icebergs grounded between Cuverville and Orne.
When Aileen and I arrived at Orne we were very thankful that we now have snowshoes. The snow was deep and wet and without the snowshoes it would have taken at least twice as long get the work done. The Chinstrap colonies on Orne are pretty small so we divided the colonies and trudged through the still deep snow to our respective colonies. From one end of the island to the top and then back down we pause at the few exposed areas where the Chinstraps are still hanging on to click our way through the nest counts. As we wound up I radioed back to Tom that we were nearly done and by the time we reached the last colony Tom was nearby waiting for us. A quick stop at a nearby smaller island to count the small colony of Gentoos and then over to Cuverville. Last time we were there we had to hastily estimate a few smaller colonies since our time on the island was done and the ship was ready to leave. We wanted to get a good count on those colonies and we had the time so Tom dropped us off at a spot close to the colonies we need to count. We decided to leave the snowshoes since it was only a short 40 yard walk to the colonies.
Not such a good idea.
We postholed our way up the slope, sinking in the slushy snow at least up to our knees or worse. We were able to finish up those last colonies and then joined the other folks for a zodiac shuttle back to the ship.
The Explorer was moving as soon as we were all back aboard, heading for Port Lockroy. After getting our field gear off and grabbing a bite for lunch, we headed back down to our cabins to get geared up all over again. We had planned to visit a nearby Gentoo colony but the winds stopped that idea in its tracks so we headed to nearby Jougla Point to do another Gentoo nest count there. We also needed to collect eggshells for our fellow Oceanites researcher and graduate student Mike Polito. Mike is using the shells to look at penguin diets and he needs about 30 shells from each site we visit, so in between counting we collected shells we found – either abandoned in the colony, hatched and laying out of the nest, or in the snow after a skua has cleaned out the inside. Oh yeah, it was blowing about 40 knots by this point with a driving sleet. On go the snowshoes and we trudge off through the snow which by this point has the consistency of wet concrete. I headed up the ridge and Aileen counted on the flats. The wind was blowing so hard at the top of the ridge I nearly got blown over a couple of times. We completed the counts, gathered a number of egg shells and headed back to the landing site. Soaking wet (last week I worked in a t-shirt here)we headed over to the station for a couple more souvenirs and then caught the next zodiac shuttle to the ship.
Off went the field gear and after a quick shower we headed up to the lounge of the Explorer for a recap of the days events. Then we all head forward to the dinning area for dinner at 7:30. Dinner is still work – the outreach and education goals of Oceanites are often best done as dinner conversation so Aileen and I each sit at a different table and explain our work in a conversational setting over dinner.
Once dinner was over I moved down to the mud room and gathered the egg samples we collected during the day and the cleaning supplies (there is usually lots of penguin guano and egg remnants on the shells). Then I headed to the tender entrance of the ship to clean eggs. After I got them cleaned I placed them in a tray and moved them to a small room around the exhaust stack of the ship where it is quite warm to dry the shells out. Then back to my cabin to complete a few emails and finally turn in about 10:30.

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