Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One last good day of boating (and fur seals)

The season is drawing to an end for us; McMurdo and South Pole station have already closed for the winter and with the LMG just having docked, we're turning over this week.  The weather has started to take a turn as well; many of the last few weeks have seen sustained winds of over 50mph, some gusts over 60mph.



The daylight is fading as well; night time has returned in full force, and with the sun setting earlier and earlier our boating opportunities after work are getting quite limited.  So when our one day off a week dawned with clear sky and brilliant weather, we had to get out onto the water one more time.



Home sweet home


The first stop was Breaker Island, to drop off Glen.  The landing site there looks like a nearly shear vertical cliff, but once you get up close you see there's enough ledges to act as a nice staircase up to the top.


We then made our way over to Old Palmer, the island where the first Palmer Station (Called Base N at the time) was constructed in the late 1950s.  It was used for only a few years before it was decided to select a new station location on the other side of the harbor, to be able to give deep-water ship access rather than having to transfer all cargo ashore with small boats.  The old station was kept around in some form as a backup facility for a couple of decades, before finally being removed in the 80s.  Now all that's left are some of the concrete pads that ones supported buildings or equipment, as well as the blue barrels of a survival cache of emergency supplies (in case anyone gets stuck out here when bad weather rolls around)


While we might not have use for the area, the fur seals have taken over the place and decided these nice, flat, warm rocks make excellent sleeping pads.



In fact, now that winter is setting in and they're returning from their summer grounds, the whole area of "Old Palmer" is nearly overrun with them.



Fur seals are aggressive animals, and extremely territorial.  They're almost perpetually fighting with each other, and will usually give warning growls and barks if another seal gets within a few feet.




But for the most part, as long as everyone keeps their distance, they're content to spend most of their time sleeping and being adorable.

Something tells me they wouldn't appreciate a belly rub




All of these shots were taken with an extremely long lens; fur seals aren't only aggressive towards each other, they're not fond of humans either.  In contrast to the docile elephant seals who don't care about anything smaller than them (which isn't much), fur seals will frequently bark and even charge at people who are quite a significant distance away.  It's purely a bluff: the proper way to deal with it is to take a couple of rapid steps towards them, while shouting as nastily as you can.  Without fail, this puts them in their place and they can go back to being adorable.








After having our fill of taking pictures of the cute puppy dogs with flippers instead of paws, we made our way around them and headed inland, up through a valley and towards the glacier.


Sean, DoJo and a few other people headed to an area on the other side of the island formerly know as Lover's Lane, and I headed up the hills onto the small northern plateau.


For the few months per year that this area is mostly clear of snow, it's achingly beautiful.  You can be forgiven for thinking that Antarctica is a barren wasteland of white.  Most of it is, but here on the Western Peninsula, you can find the occasional haven of green.


The poor drainage from up here gives plenty of pools of standing water, giving home to large sheets of moss and hearty grass.  Earlier in the season this area is a popular nesting site for many flighted seabirds; the guano probably helps matters as well.


What a planet this is!


Note the person in the background silhouetted by the hills for scale

Even a few adventurous seals have made the climb up here to sleep on the soft moss.


As much as we like the seals, their arrival signals our imminent departure; the LMG pulled in today, the last tieing up that we the summer crew will have to do.


In just a week, it will sail north with us on board, returning us to the world of warm(er) winds, motorcycles, and having to pay for our own food.  As much as I enjoy being here, I'm looking forward to going home.  It's been a long season, and I'm ready to take on the real world again.


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