The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Day 9 – Astounding wildlife

Posted by Annette - 16 December 2013

After yesterday's action-packed day on the zodiacs, today has had a more contemplative air. Snow flurries have danced past the windows and most of us have remained safely cocooned inside the ship, clutching warm drinks whilst watching the icy world drift by from the bridge. The Shokalskiy has resumed its slow trudge south, crunching and juddering through the dense pack ice. The area is littered with thick tiles of ice that at times fracture on our approach, cracking like crazy paving before falling away - frothing and hissing under the powerful hull. At times, though the ice stands firm and we grind to a halt, unable to break through the turquoise depths.

One of the best parts of this trip is the chance to discover so much about this incredible region. Each day we learn more about how this environment has been formed and the creatures resourceful enough to live in such a hostile spot. This morning Kerry-Jayne entertained us all with a fascinating introduction to the Antarctic bird life. We met penguins, albatrosses and petrels, learning the secrets of their survival. Looking at the skull of an albatross it was clear how well adapted these birds are for their maritime life, from their distinctive tube noses that allow them to excrete the additional salt in their diet, to their ability to turn all their food into nutrient-rich proventricular oil to feed their young. We also met my new polar hero, the sooty sheerwater, able to dive up to 80 metres and fly vast distances across the Pacific Ocean, all whilst barely out of the burrow!

The wildlife in the area continues to astound. We were lucky to catch another glimpse of minke whales off the bow this morning and our path through the ice seems to be followed by the watchful eyes of crabeater seals and adelie penguins. The penguins in particular seem curious to see us, scurrying and sliding across the ice, often flapping a wing and squawking as if in greeting. As you marvel at these creatures it's hard to imagine that once so many of them were hunted to the brink of extinction. This afternoon Ben shared tales of the bloody history of the Antarctic sealing industry. The struggles and hardships of this rapacious trade seem unimaginable and the images of the seal blubber carved as if a chequerboard - truly horrifying.

Each night as we gather around the dinner tables the room buzzes with the thrill of sharing what we've all seen and how privileged we all feel to be part of the expedition. Tonight, though, the room throbbed with the electrifying news that tomorrow we should reach the fast ice and finally be able to take our first steps onto the frozen continent.