All good things must end

Well  I have been out at sea for nearly a month. We are nearly back across the Drake and should be back in Punta Arenas in a few days. The science and fun time on the ship has ended so…

Goodbye ice- you looked so nice.

And goodbye fish, just one last kiss.

Goodbye communal crossword puzzle on the wall (we did 20+!).

Goodbye dance parties after a good trawl.

Goodbye friends- till we meet again.

Good Morning, Sunshine

This is my first time down to the Ice when it hasn’t been high summer. That means that I get to experience actual night. That also means that wee have the opportunity for real sunrises and real sunsets. The morning shift has had some truly spectacular sunrises, while the night shift has been working through most of the sunsets. I asked my friend Pablo to wake me up in the event of a beautiful sunrise. Boy did he deliver!

We have been working near Clarence Island for the past few days. One morning- when we were  in thick ice the sky just exploded. Big thanks to Pablo for waking me up  so I could go on deck and experience it. My photos do not do it justice .  Actually I really wished Andrew were there for the company and better photography skills.

Without further ado, I give you Antarctic sunrise near Clarence Island.

Here Fishy, Fishy

*** As I was working these tows  many of the photos are not mine. They are used with permission.

A small, but very important part of this cruise is collecting data on the larger (fishable) fish in the area. Right now the only commercial fishery in the region is for krill. BUT, two species of ice fish may have recovered from overfishing that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. It is possible that an icefish fishery might open in the region in the next few years. So the fish scientists onboard want to get a better idea of the winter distribution and abundance of  ice fish.

That means we go fishing. Just like commercial fishermen, we carefully pick the times and locations to maximize the number of fish we will catch. Unlike commercial fishermen we are intentionally using a small net and trying to keep it off the bottom to reduce by-catch  (all the non-fish critters that end up in the net).

Despite our best efforts, we do catch a lot of benthic invertebrates. That’s where the zooplankton team steps in to quickly sort the catch so that we can get the animals back in the ocean quickly. I like to think that if we can turn the catch around in less than an hour a good portion of the invertebrates will live to tell the story of the their alien abduction.

So let’s go fishing.

For commercial fisheries you would use net doors  that  are made of steel and weigh 1 ton (or more) each. Since our net is so little (only a fifteen foot otter trawl), we are using aluminum doors that weigh about 150 (or so) pounds each. The net doors serve to keep the net open so that it will catch fish.  The smaller the net, the smaller the doors need to be.

Once the full net is brought onboard.  It is unceremoniously dumped onto deck and shoveled into baskets..

Sometimes we do a rough sort just to remove the fish and estimate how much “other stuff” we caught. We actually get mostly “other stuff” and relatively little fish per tow.

Last night we did a tow where we only did a rough sort. We had 24 baskets of sponges (about 750 pounds) and about 50 pounds of other benthic animals. We also caught 40 (not pounds, just forty) small fish.That was a lot of stuff for 4 people to sort through in 30 minutes.

When we have time, we like to do more thorough sorts and identify the benthic critters to phylum, and when possible, species.

CCAMLR, the Antarctic marine species Treaty, requires that we report “Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems” or VMEs. CCAMLR recognizes that some marine ecosystems are composed of animals that are very sensitive to disturbance. These animals tend to be long lived and slow growing and often provide structure (habitat) on the sea floor.  It includes things like corals and glass and sponges. If we catch a certain amount of those critters, it must be reported to CCAMLR, and that area will be closed for fishing. We can quickly identify these sensitive species even in our rough sorts.

We catch some very cool things…


You can see a glass sponge and an octopus in the bottom left corner.  Solitary cup corals are in the center.  On the bottom right there is an armored chiton (red)  and a pycnogonid  (sea spider- we catch a lot of pycnogonids)

Here’s a close up of that bristle worm.   You see where it gets its name

My favorite by far are the cyrollid amphipods which I have dubbed space cockroaches

I really need to spend less time working and more time taking photos, but my shift has been pretty full on and I don’t think Andrew would like it if I got his camera covered in mud and salt water. It’s a good thing I have friends on other shifts who can stay clean and take photos they are happy to share.

What are we doing tonight?

Same thing we do every night, try to take over the zoooplankton world.

For the last few days we have had a pretty intense sampling program. The zooplankton stations were spaced about 90 minutes apart. That is not a lot of time to sort through the catch! I I have been exhausted. Now we are in a part of the sampling area where the stations are 3 hours apart and I can take a moment to show you what we have been up to.

We were working west of Elephant Island and this area is dominated by T-mac, tiny tiny T-mac that take forever to pick from the sample trays. One day I picked 462 T-mac from one haul, not to mention what everyone else picked!

You remember T-mac? They are a small euphausid (related to krill), with kidney bean shaped eyes. They are pretty easy to identify in the sampling trays, so I can pick them out pretty quickly.

T-mac are very very very abundant. They are everywhere we sample.  Even in the samples with lots of krill there is lots of T-mac. Yet despite this abundance, relatively little is known about their ecology. Antarctic marine ecosystems are thought to be krill centric; lots and lots of animals eat krill.  Studies of whales and seals and fish and birds have all found lots of  krill in their poop and bellies. Yet T-mac is super abundant  and is found everywhere.  Surely it has an important role in the ecosystem. Surely lots of critters eat T-mac. T-mac must also be a huge consumer of algae. Yet no one has described T-mac’s ecological role yet.

Mixed in with all the T-mac we have found some interesting critters like these guys…

We have caught some really cool amphipods. I love these Eusirus because they were so huge. The top guy filled my hand (no macro lens kit required!). The photo doesn’t really do them justice. They were  bright pink with yellow and  green. So pretty and cool looking!

Some of my favorite critters are the little shell-less snails known as pteropods (you don’t hear them coming because the p is silent). One of the most common ones we get is Clione limacina. It comes in shades of pink orange and yellow. We got some very large ones recently. When they swim up to the surface it looks like they want to kiss. They are so cute!

The little dumbo ear flaps you see are just a specially shaped part of the snail’s mantle.  They are not the most graceful of swimmers, but they are pretty cute.

Another one of my favorite zooplankters is the chaetognanth (or arrow worm). This thing is a fierce predator. It will often try to eat things while we are looking at it through the microscope.


Cheatognaths range in size from microscopic to several inches long. Whatever size they are, they are pretty badass.

We also have a lot of larval (baby) fish that get caught in the zooplankton net. Some look right out of the movies.

Some of the larval fish are so odd that they can’t be found in any of the reference books  we have on board. It’s a good thing the fish team likes a challenge

We also catch quite a few fish eggs. Where did you think the larval fish came from?

We are doing some daytime trawls for fish and larger benthic creatures. I guess I better get ready for that.

Catch ya later.

We didn’t plan to see it

Life on the ship is governed by the “Plan of the Day”. It is posted on the ships intranet and lets everyone know what is happening when. Well this is Antarctica in the winter and nothing ever goes to plan. Our Chief scientist has largely given up on having an actual schedule for the plan of the day. Here is what today’s looked like. It covers midnight to midnight

We have been working on that last one “Calibrate” since before 9 am it is now 11 at night.  In addition to catching zooplankton in nets we are using echo-sounders (like super fancy fishfinders) to detect fish and zooplankton in the water. To best understand the results we get we need to calibrate the instruments.

How do you calibrate an echo-sounder? Well, you put a small metal sphere (that is perfectly spherical and of known size, mass and material), several meters directly below the echo-sounders. Then you “ping” on the ball and note the measurements you get from the returned echo.

On the NBP, the echo-sounders are mounted on the underside of the boat. It is a bit of a production to calibrate them. You need too find a sheltered, ice free area where the boat can safely anchor for a few hours. Then you use things that look like motorized fishing rods to position the sphere under the ship. The first time we tried to calibrate it was too windy and we had to abort. Today we have been hounded by ice and wind.

In our quest to find a good spot too calibrate, we have sailed by some very lovely spots. Here are the places and avian faces I have seen on this calibration quest.

Ok, that may have been a gratuitous Smith Island photo. We weren’t going to calibrate near it. Two nights ago we started talking about calibrating when we were near Smith Island.

It was far too icy to calibrate near Smith Island.



Today we headed for Neslon Straits so that we could cross into more protected waters on the other side of King George Island. That’s right, we are returning to the same area where we dropped of the freshies for the Polish Arctowski Station. There is a reason why there are so many stations on that Island- lots of area protected from the wind and storms  and very easy to get in with a big ship.


The land around Nelson Strait has everything, rocky outcrops, glacier and ice shelves.   The underwater world is also filled with tasty krill, which attracts a lot of birds to the area.

There were so many birds in Nelson Straits. It was just unbelievable. It certainly kept the bird and mammal observers busy counting!

As we exited Nelson Strait there was a lovely sunset. The sky just lit up.

We still have several more hours of sailing before we reach the next location where we can try to calibrate. I guess I will find out what happened and what the new plan is when I wake up in the morning.

Care Package

So today was the big day. We delivered the freshies care package to the Poles. Arctowski Station is on King George Island (KGI), in Admiralty Bay. KGI is like the big city for the Antarctic Peninsula region, there are so many Antarctic stations there!

The Peruvians have the cutest little station! It looks like it is going to be swallowed by the glacier, but it is actually on a peninsula.

These were just the stations we passed by. There is a large Station- Frei- occupied jointly by the Chileans and the Russians. Frei has an airport used by researchers and tourists just behind a corner we didn’t round. The Koreans, Chinese, and Germans also have stations on KGI.  See it really is a happening place?

Anyhow we were here for one purpose to deliver freshies (fresh eggs, milk, lemons, oranges, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes) to our friends and collaborators, the Poles at Arctowski Station. This is a big exciting event for us and the Poles

We had a lot of food to give the Poles, two crane loads! Don’t think they were expecting quite so much!

The guy in the orange suit  could not seem to get the zodiac untied from the NBP.   He nearly fell in trying to undo the knot. Maybe he wanted to stay. We do have more freshies and great cook aboard.

The transit to and from Arctowski provided some great sightseeing-  if you could stand the cold. It was a bright sunny windy day. The wind was brutal.  It was about –30C with windchill. Thank goodness for big red.

The dramatic sunset never came. Sad smile I am usually working the lab at sunset so may I present you with a dramatic sunset from earlier in the cruise.

Seal Soup!

For the past two days we have been working in the Bransfield  Strait. Up until 3 weeks ago, the strait was ice free. Then suddenly, sea ice started to form and move in. Now most of the Bransfield strait is jam packed with first year sea ice and bergy bits.

While doing our plankton net tows, we caught record numbers of krill. In other words, the Bransfield Strait is now paradise for pack ice seals (crabeater, Weddell, and leopard seals). The place was just jam packed with seals. The marine mammal observers counted more than 500 in an hour!

A light snow was falling for a good part of the day, so the seals look extra soft and squishy in the photos. They were only vaguely curious about the big orange ship headed towards them. The ship could get pretty close before they would gallump away.

The penguins were a little more leary of the ship. I only saw them in the distance, and they tended to skitter away from the boat well before the even seals considered moving. I guess being little and tasty makes you more cautious.

Despite recently surviving an attack by a killer whale, this seal still could not be bothered to move away from the ship. We could have jumped and landed on its ice floe as we passed by. Of course, that could be because it was too exhausted from its injuries to move. In my mind though, this seal thinks it can totally take on the ship and win.

Mixed in with all the crabeater seals were some leopard seals. Do not mess with a leopard seal. They will eat anything- krill, penguins, other seals, inflatable boats…  One watched us put our plankton net in water. It was so very cool. You gotta love a top predator.