Archive for the ‘Antarctica – Cape Shirreff’ Category

Su 22 April 2018, 22:24. Rooftop terrace of Windmill Hostel, Mendoza, Argentina.

Considering I entered Antarctica knowing virtually nothing about fur seal or penguin biology, I learned a lot over the course of my first season at Cape Shirreff. Doug, Jesse, Sam, and Adam taught me about seals. Jefferson and Nai taught me about penguins and skuas. Because of his short stay, Mike mostly taught me about baking sourdough, which I could argue is the most pertinent skill for the rest of my life. Last, but certainly not least, a few Antarctic fur seal puppies taught me about survival.

I’ll explain. The backbone of the Antarctic fur seal research conducted at the Cape comes from a busy period that runs from late November through the first third of December; the official name for this time is perinatals, the phase surrounding the time of birth. This occurs after the bulls have established their territories and the pregnant females have come ashore to give birth.

During this period Nai and I continued to monitor our penguins, who were in the thick of egg laying for both species. In the afternoons our work changed to helping the pinnipeders, which made for some longer days.

The pinniped team would identify adult females with a day or 2-old pup to capture, and while they worked on measuring and tagging the mother, Nai and I would take some measurements and basically babysit the puppy. In order to keep track of study pups, we bleached marks into the fur on their backs. (Note: The puppies molt off their thick coats after they’re a couple of months old, so the mark doesn’t last long.)


~1 day old Antarctic fur seal puppy

The bleached marks came from the names the puppies were given, and that’s where all the puppies’ teaching starts to come in. Penguinas – as female biologists studying the penguins are typically called at the Cape – are tasked with naming the puppies. It’s a rough life. But, as much as naming is completely up to us, we let the puppies show us their personalities first.

With roughly 26 puppies to name and the letters A to Z, numbers, or basic symbols at our disposal, there were many options. Thus, before perinatals even began, Nai and I held multiple puppy name theme brainstorming meetings. For the 2017-18 season we ultimately decided on the following:

Breakfast foods: Yogurt, Omelette, Waffle, Mimosa, Pancake, Leftovers, Grits, Burrito, Tea and Crumpets (twins), Coffee, Cavejuiceman, Fruit Loop, Bacon, Donut, Biscuit and Gravy (twins), Mr. Dashman

Types of dance: Waltx, Twerk, Bachata, Tango, Robot, Polka

Body parts: Face, Kidney, Follicle, Uvula, Socket, Miss Nipple, Pinky and the Brain (twins)

As I mentioned, we let the puppies show their personalities before assigning names. Some puppies were full of milk and therefore very sweet and sleepy, such as Waltx. Others were, well, just read below to see the personality notes we recorded for these four puppies.

Burrito – a fucking handful, aggressive, voracious, pooper, biter, little devil, cute face

Tango – likes going left, twitchy, adorable short sounds, less social, looking for partner to tango though

Coffee – made strange bubbly/grumbly noises, pooper, rowdy and bitey, gurgled, little sleepy at beginning, energy

Miss Nipple – fell asleep twice, sweet, but grumpy and bitey when woken up to return to mom

The pinnipeders recorded the presence or absence of the mothers and puppies on the study beaches daily, which gave them ample time to watch the puppies’ personalities grow and change. Sadly, only 4 study puppies made it to the end of the season; the others died from starvation or predation. Yet from the 4 survivors we all learned some valuable lessons to apply to our own lives.

old puppies

~ 3 month old fur seal puppies

I present the Proverbs of the Four Survivors:

Burrito – Resist change. Only grow physically. Defend your bubble aggressively. Don’t explore.

Tango – Be ugly in someone’s eyes. Pay no attention to proper proportions. Don’t do anything. Exist. Live in the moment. (Adam was highly critical of Tango’s appearance.)

Coffee – Run away from everything that’s not your mother.

Miss Nipple – Make them think you’re dead. Never stop exploring.  (She hadn’t been seen for a few days and was basically in the “no hope” category before she was spotted inland in a totally new area for her.)

Hey, if these worked for fur seal puppies, why not us? Pick and choose as you see fit. 😉


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Su 25 March 2018, 18:30; written from in a colectivo (shared cab) in Punta Arenas

… finished M 2 April 2018, 23:26; written from night bus traveling from Puerto Natales, Chile, to El Calafate, Argentina

As I stood with an armload of groceries in the checkout line of Lider, it finally hit me. Searching for a smile, I looked hard at my package of TimTams as I tried to fight back the tears beginning to well up in my eyes. It wasn’t working.

Before hailing a ride out to the mall, which is where the Walmart-like grocery store is, I’d said a preliminary goodbye to Sam, my last remaining crewmate in Punta Arenas. Tonight he and some college friends are leaving for Puerto Natales and the famous Torres del Paine; in the morning I’ll catch a bus heading south to Ushuaia and Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego.

In the last month of our time in Antarctica, as well as during our voyage north on the Gould icebreaker and our few days in Punta Arenas, I told the crew that they’d get to see me shed tears at our farewell. For some reason Adam said he was looking forward to it.

At certain times during our final weeks, I teared up briefly. I had to blink back some sorrow the day we closed the Skua Shack, for although I’d be back in October, I knew it’d be different without Nai’s “chaotic happiness.”

We have a tradition of “Scotch guarding” – sipping scotch – in memory of fallen Antarctic fur seal study pups. With scotch, beer, and wine to consume the night before our pick-up, we toasted a few other happy and sad moments. With all of my bread baking and some help from the others in camp, we’d managed to use all of the white flour in camp by the last night– something Jesse, our resident NOAA Corps officer, did not think could ever be done.

Feeling proud of that fact, I raised my last Alaskan beer and toasted, “To the death of the flour!” When Jesse asked a second later, “Wait, who was deflowered?” I couldn’t handle it. In the Christmas light-lit darkness, first laughter came, then a few tears slid down my face as I recognized that the individual humors of our group would be gone from the norm in roughly a week. When someone saw the tears on my face and asked if I was crying, I had to step outside for a moment.

As the final Zodiac skiffs made their last laps between the beach and the Laurence M. Gould, I faced away from the beach and looked into the fluffy snow that was falling softly, adding to the few inches that had accumulated over the last few days. “Winter is coming,” I’d been telling the crew, and it made me less happy to leave than ever. Another few tears slid down my face as I gazed at the snowy scene that had been so unknown just 5 months earlier. It was home.

With those and other forgotten moments of sorrow, I thought the tears would flow easily at our goodbye in Punta Arenas. After all, I’d openly cried at the mere memory of New Zealand for practically no reason just a few weeks earlier. (It was pretty impressive. One minute the others were talking about rough break-ups, and when they asked about me, all I had to offer was a comparison of leaving NZ. Bam. Full on tears.)

Yet when the time for farewells outside the hotel Cabo de Hornos came, hugs were exchanged and brief words said, and then most of my friends were gone. Jefferson, Jesse, Nai, and Adam left for the airport in a van, leaving Sam and me standing on the sidewalk. How do you say a proper goodbye to the only people you’ve been around for months? Simple hugs, thank yous, and the suggestion to visit don’t do that kind of relationship justice.

No, the reality didn’t hit me until I was alone in the grocery store where we’d bought cartfuls of fancy cheeses, sausages, wine, and alcohol months before. My season had come full circle, and while I tried to use Nai’s rushed line of “It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine,” – normally used when she was close to dropping a heavy tote on her head or running to check something in the oven – I smiled, but hearing that really only made me a little sadder.


** Don’t worry, I ended up with 2 more goodbyes to Sam. We ended up meeting again in Punta Arenas after our respective trips, and then he followed me by bus up to El Calafate. Seriously, he sat in the row behind me on 2 buses.

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Week 17: Sa 17 February 2018, 19:34. Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island, Antarctica

After months of careful observations and thought, I’ve figured it out. Between Antarctic fur seals, penguins, and brown skuas, I know which animal’s offspring-rearing strategy is the most appealing.

Though penguins are diligent parents, they don’t offer their chicks any freedom. Their protection from skua predation is essential for the first 3-4 weeks of the chicks’ lives, but nests are really too small to fit 2 chicks and an adult by that point. Adults quit sitting on their ever-growing chicks around the 2 week point. From there on out their rock nests are broken down by the movement of adults in and out of the colonies, as well as the dynamics between the chicks and adults.

Well before the chicks start to creche, all of the adults and chicks have been standing awkwardly in an ever growing pool of “mud” for weeks. Everyone’s filthy and wet to some degree or other, and the whole colony smells worse than it has all season. Keep it classy, penguins. (Here’s looking specifically at you, chinstraps. You gentoos aren’t so bad, but what’s up with making your chicks chase you for meals? Brutal.)

The elimination of brown skuas from the running for best parenting strategy requires no explanation for one simple reason. Sometimes they simply eat their own chicks. That’s a very twisted version of Snack Time.

Because of the limited freedom of penguin chicks and the cannibalism of brown skuas of their own chicks, Antarctic fur seals are the clear winner of the Best Parenting Strategy amongst our study animals at Cape Shirreff. There are other reasons for fur seals being the clear victors, though.

Before working here I had very limited knowledge of fur seal biology; now I can provide a basic run-down on how the season plays out for them. The large, harem-holding bulls began showing up on our snow-covered beaches in early to mid November, and pregnant females started populating the beaches around the 3rd week of November. Shortly thereafter the females began giving birth to single pups.

During the weeks and months after giving birth, the pups were left on their own on the beaches while the mothers went out to sea on foraging trips. Trips ranged in duration from 3 to 7 days, on average. Initially the puppies spent their time sleeping and staying warm. As they grew older, they started forming puppy gangs that would hang out in snowmelt puddles on the beaches. Eventually they moved to exploring the shallow waters just off the beach, where they started swimming lessons. (They’d learned all about blowing bubbles in the ponds, so it was the logical next step.)

When they started playing in the water, we humans began worrying about their safety; their mothers, however, were frequently nowhere to be seen. While the puppies were learning how to spin and do flips in the intertidal pools, leopard seals were on the prowl in the waters just beyond. With the presence of leopard seals through the end of the season, it was a worrisome time. Every time I walked down Chungungo Beach, I waved the puppies out of the water and called, “Out of the water! Get out of there! It’s not safe! Yes, come hang out with me on the nice dry beach.”

Without their mothers’ presence, the puppies were also free to wander to lands beyond their birth beach. They visited neighboring beaches and started climbing to higher ground. When on shore the mothers would often take their pups onto hilltops for days of napping and nursing. Finding seals in the hills was initially strange, but I got used to it with time.

Finally, late in the season the puppies took to having pool parties in the puppy ponds: inland puddles and ponds with enough water for swimming. There they were able to practice their porpoising, swimming, bubble blowing, flipping, and being cute under the careful eye of a SAM – sub adult male – babysitter. What a life.

There you have it. How can you beat a parenting style that includes napping, cuddling, playing with your friends, swimming lessons, the freedom to explore, ample time to be on your own, and the knowledge that your mom will – fingers crossed – come home with a belly full of milk in a few days?

That’s better than sitting in a mudbath of poop or being eaten by mom and dad.

*Ahem. This was finished in the waters to the east of Tierra del Fuego. We’re almost back to trees – yay – and people – not yay.

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Week 18: Sa 24 February 2018, 15:42. “Little Chile” aka Guillermo Mann Chilean Base, Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island, Antarctica

Here I am in Little Chile, proofing data in the depths of Microsoft Excel while drying my face of tears. The “Lord of the Rings” soundtracks are what kept me ticking through the studies of
college life, and today they’ve carried me along through Rite in the Rain notebooks of data. Let me explain.

Unfortunately for my health, we’ve discovered weaknesses in the structural integrity of our camp over the last week. With near 100% humidity, sections of plywood wall and floor have rotted
over the years. Adam found a hole in the wall a few days ago, so we removed Adam’s entire bed – the bunk below mine – to realize that an entire corner had multiple rotten sections with
mold growth. Over the course of the days when we were exposing rotten areas, I noticed I’d managed to develop a cough. It would have been bizarre for me to have somehow caught a cold,
since nobody else has been sick and we’ve shared all of our germs here, so we think my body is fighting with mold spores. Lucky me.

As a result, I’ve been holed up in Little Chile with a laptop of data, a laptop of music, and multiple mugs of tea today. The rest of the crew has taken on the role of demolition crew as
they cut out the rotten areas, deep clean, dry, and piece the walls back together with fresh wood. Since I’ve probably been suffering from the air in camp, I’m not helping with that project.

Being on my own today has been refreshing and quite productive. I’ve been able to stay more focused on entering and proofing data because there aren’t people coming and going around me all
the time. Since music with words is too distracting for me, I chose to play my old standby and travel through Middle Earth all day.

There’s an unofficial Guinness World Record for number of times having listened to those 3 soundtracks, and I’m 99% sure I hold that record. College friends still associate me with the
music when they hear it just because I ALWAYS listened to it while studying. Because of my love for the films and soundtracks, I can basically watch the movies in my mind when I listen to the music. (How that doesn’t distract me from my work is beyond me.)

Anyway, here I was just verifying which gentoo chicks had received which bands, as the ultimate sequence of tracks rolled along: “The Black Gate Opens,” “The End of All Things,” “The
Return of the King,” “The Grey Havens,” and Annie Lennox’s “Into the West.” This time I let my emotions ride along as I listened, which is how I ended up having a good cry over the databook. Good thing it is Rite in the Rain and therefore tearproof.

We have about 3 weeks left before the Gould picks us up. 3. Stupid. Weeks. Annie’s line of “the ships have come / to carry you home” is all too real. Every field season feels like my own
hobbit self’s journey. I travel farther away from home than I’ve ever been, spend all my time with new friends, face unexpected obstacles, and have experiences that no one at home will
believe (or understand.) I don’t help save the world or anything, but I get to know its distant lands a little better.

Because of those things, feeling the final 30 minutes of “Return of the King” sometimes hurts. Hearing the flutes of the Shire play over the darker tones of Mordorian music breaks me as I
picture Sam and Frodo dreaming of strawberries with cream from the slopes of Mount Doom. Seeing the faces of Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Aragorn, and Gandalf when their cheers turn to tears at
their perceived loss of Frodo (when Mount Doom erupts) stabs me in the gut. And when Gandalf is waiting at the foot of Frodo’s bed when he wakes up, the hopeful strings and flutes shepherd
in all my happiness with the greetings of Merry and Pippin, Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, and Sam. Watching Aragorn become king, reunite with Arwen, and then bow to the 4 hobbits as the strings
crescendo and carry the hobbits back across the map to their home in the Shire is too much to handle. Back in the Shire, I frequently feel like one of the hobbits having a post-epic drink at The Green Dragon.

The problem is, I don’t have a Shire. Being peripatetic in the realm of wildlife fieldwork lends itself to a very full life, but it can also have its times of lonesomeness. My mom, by far
the most social of the family, often gives me a hard time when I make comments about how there are too many people in the world and how more animals would be preferable. She typically
tosses out a line about how people are important; as her daughter, I perform my rebel role of muttering that idea away.

But I do know she’s right – to an extent. It’s just that the people I care most about are the ones who aren’t content going to an office job and hitting the gym every day. I’m not one to
open myself up to people – in part because I figure I’ll be leaving – so it’s the people I spend the most time with, the people with whom I share interests and experiences, who matter most.

Sometime I hope to bring to you readers the tale of my being chased up the beach by a fur seal while trying to maintain a poop squat. That probably sounds funny to you, but my co-workers
are the ones who can heartily laugh along because they, too, have had it happen. They’re my fellow hobbits.

As journey’s end rapidly approaches, I can’t help but think of how strange it will be to all have separate hotel rooms in Punta Arenas. All of the former Cape Shirreff techs I know have
mentioned how they almost panicked to not know where every crew member was at all times once back in town. I can already imagine how lost I’m going to feel the day we all part ways and I
step out of the Hotel Cabo de Hornos to begin backpacker travel on my own. There will be wallowing.

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Week 16: Sa 10 February 2018, 18:18. Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island, Antarctica

Considering chinstrap penguins and gentoo penguins come here for the same purposes – procreation and chick rearing – it’s pretty entertaining to see the number of ways in which they differ. I generally prefer gentoos to the chinnies, but Nai feels the opposite.

In terms of appearances, I consider gentoos to be one of the bird species I’ve worked with that has the sexiest markings. They have bright orange-red bills, orange feet, clean white
fronts, dark bodies, and beautiful white speckling that spreads from behind the eyes to span the crown of the head. They’re gorgeous!

Chinstraps have dark bodies, moderately white fronts, black bills, and a black strap that crosses below the chin on an otherwise white face. It’s that chinstrap that biases me away from
them; the chinstrap facial hair of some humans often seems to go along with an obnoxious, self-impressed attitude. In similar fashion, the chinnies are too loud and have too much attitude for me.

Chinstraps’ attitudes lie along the lines of “I will destroy you!!!” One was once so bent on defending the nearby chicks from me that it charged and successfully chased me away from the
colony’s edge. (Yes, I ran away from a penguin.) Given the strength of the slaps they hand out with their flippers, I chose to save my shins rather than hold my ground. Seriously,
chinnies, chill out! Have I ever taken one of your eggs or chicks for keeps? No. I can respect the “Don’t f*@! with me” attitude, but I don’t have to like it.

Gentoos’ attitudes lie along the lines of “AHH! You’re clearly after me! I must run away!” While I admit that it’s unfortunate to feel like I’m frequently scaring gentoos – which also
makes it harder to read their bands – it’s better than having a heart attack every time a chinstrap unexpectedly jumps toward me while emitting an amazingly loud call of outrage. Gentoos
tend to look around anxiously and then move a few feet away when they feel at risk.

Although gentoos tend to take the ‘flight’ rather than ‘fight’ attitude, they do win when it comes to bravery against predation by brown skuas. Rather unfairly, skuas can fly, meaning they
have a whole slew of moves that penguins can’t use. Skuas often stand on the edge of a penguin colony, then move in on foot to scope out nest contents. To grab an egg or chick, they grab a
penguin by the tail, pull it off the nest, and then hop over the bird to reach the nest before the penguin can return to it. Watching this predation makes me feel like life isn’t fair, but gentoos don’t let their offspring go so easily.

Enter the Hero Penguins. Hero Penguins are far more often gentoos than chinstraps, and they find it their duty to chase predatory skuas away from the colonies. It doesn’t matter whose nest
is being eyed; Hero Penguins often come running, flippers held out, to the rescue. A skua will simply be standing near a colony when a gentoo will come “racing” out of nowhere and force a
skua to leave the area. Sometimes the skua will land within 50 feet of its start point and then realize the gentoo is still heading for it. Head down and full of determination, a Hero Penguin is protective, dedicated, and selfless. Respect, Hero Penguins.

Chinstrap penguins are much more mate-oriented than gentoos. From the days of standing around in snow, through copulations and nest building, chinnie mates are more often clearly present
than gentoo mates. With their necks stretched skyward, they interact by moving their necks in a snake-like swaying motion and squeaking out their loud calls. Gentoos tend to ignore each
other a lot more – even when both adults are present at the nest. They bow to each other and their nests in greeting… if and when they do decide to acknowledge one another.

The sounds of gentoos are pretty compared to those of chinstraps. I’m not going to try to spell out their sounds, though; I’ll leave that to birding guides. (If you’d like to know what
these birds sound like, look up the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I assume that it has good recordings of their vocalizations.) Chinstraps make LOUD, crackly-squeaky calls that startle me
enough to make me jump when I’m not expecting them. Gentoos are generally quiet birds that tend to make their trumpeting call at random times, sometimes with their mates and sometimes just because other birds are doing it.

In addition to the above reasons, I prefer gentoos because their colonies are not the “mud”pits in which chinstraps live. I described chinstraps as having “moderately white” fronts
because, once the snow’s gone, chinnies can’t really be described as clean. Their colonies are full of a mud-poo slurry that has grown more juicy as the season has progressed. Chinstrap
chicks never appear completely clean or dry after roughly their first 2 weeks of life.

Gentoos prefer having a little more personal space and build taller nests that prevent them from living in “mud.” Like gentoos, I prefer a little more personal space than a life of getting splashed with mud and being shouted at and bitten by neighbors.

Although I fully admit that gentoos don’t seem to have much going on upstairs, their chicks seem smarter than chinnie chicks for a couple reasons. Instead of living in wet mud, gentoo
chicks move to dry areas outside the colony once it’s time to creche, or leave the nest and hang out as a pack of chicks while the adults are out foraging. Once in a group, they stick
together and run from dangers as a group. I imagine that if I were to organize them into ranks and create an army, they’d follow orders without a problem. They’d recognize when to flee and when to fight.

Chinnies, well… that’s another story. I needed to swap out a temporary Velcro band for a metal band on one chick, and during my 5-10 minute search of all the chicks in an area for that
specific bird, it didn’t move more than 5 feet. By the time I had identified the black Velcro band beneath the muddy down, all I had to do was bend down and pick up the bird. Like the rest
of the chicks, it had made no effort to run. Smart, chinstrap chicks. An army of those guys would freeze up at the first sign of trouble.

Working with these 2 species of penguin has again reminded me of how much personality individual animals can possess. Having also seen a few Adèlie penguins, a king penguin, and a macaroni
penguin has made me wonder what each of those species is like. One thing seems certain: taking any sort of measurements of a king penguin would require one person to contain the bird and another to measure.

Although gentoos are my favorite here at Cape Shirreff, I was saddened to see that today brought a mass exodus of chinstrap adults from the colonies. Apparently the time for their
“groupthink”-motivated departure had come, and it came without warning for us. They’ll be around to feed their chicks, but it seems the days of full colonies are over.

The change marks the beginning of the end of our fieldwork, and – as usual, I’m not interested in everything that brings. It’s terribly sad when seabirds don’t say goodbye.

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Week 15: Tr 1 February 2017, 23:21. Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island, Antarctica

SDH: It’s what I call the fur seal puppies that are especially Small, Dark, and Handsome.

2 January: Today Doug, Adam, Sam, Nai, and I had face-to-face interactions with about 10 new people for the first time since we were dropped off on 24 October. Doug and Sam somehow knew
how to have conversations with strangers. The other 3 of us hung back, being unsure of what to say. I think we were torn between the feelings of “Get off our island,” “Thanks for the goodies,” and “Who are you?”

It was interesting to see their faces react to being on Antarctic soil for the first time; seeing their reactions to nearby penguins and the crabeater seal sleeping on the beach was fun.
It seemed like AGES ago that I’d first landed at the Cape and looked around in rather clueless wonder. I’ve learned so much since then!

The Laurence M. Gould (LMG) arrived with fresh produce, milk, propane, Christmas and care packages, and another pinniped researcher, Mike. Fortunately Nai was busy restocking our
“freshies” room as we brought boxes up from the beach; otherwise we wouldn’t have received our tomatoes, zucchini, bananas, apples, or milk. Those losses would have been heartbreaking. The
LMG left with all of our trash from the first half of the season. Fair trade, right?

4 January: This was the day I decided enough was enough with constant sniffing and instead began to practice a more efficient technique of clearing the nose: the snot rocket. Most of the
crew has done it since the early days, and now I’ve joined the ranks. With such a humid environment and varying levels of wind that make for a perpetually runny nose, the snot rocket is a lifesaver.

8 January: Today I started to panic because it felt like the season was practically over – even with 2+ months to go.

12 January: Date of the storm that brought snow and a top wind speed of 67 mph. Nai and I somehow managed to walk home – most of the time INTO that wind.

29-31 January: Baking accomplishment – Other than the flour Nai used in the crust of a delicious pear tart, I singlehandedly killed a 5 pound bag of flour in 3 days. To do so I baked a
batch of my Grandma’s rolls (experimenting a little by substituting some rye flour), a batch of maple walnut blondies, a batch of coconut rolls, and a boule of sourdough. Baking bread is the best!

31 January: I have taken on the task of keeping Mike’s sourdough alive, which is an arena of baking I hadn’t explored in the past. Mike, the primary pinniped researcher who was in camp
from 2 January through 26 January, knows how to bake beautiful boules of sourdough. Following in his footsteps means I have to fill some big baking shoes.

Somehow I managed to produce my own well-risen boule on my very first attempt! When I pulled off the lid of the Dutch oven at the halfway point of baking, my jaw dropped to see that it had
actually risen. Following the Tartine (San Fran-based) recipe was so different from anything I’d done in the past that I didn’t actually think I’d end up successful. It was a proud moment at 00:20 when I pulled it out of the oven.

1 February: The season of false snow has begun! Chinstrap penguins are beginning to molt, so feathers will be in the air for the next few weeks.

1 February: Today I made real progress with the fur seal puppies. At one stop on my skua rounds I convinced a few pups to sniff my trekking pole. When I encountered the next group of
puppies, I sat down and encouraged 4 puppies to leave their safe swimming hole to come check me out. 2 of them sniffed the pole and then checked out the soles of my boots. Naturally that’s when my camera battery died. Still, it was an adorable moment.

The best interaction of the day came on Chungungo Beach. 2 puppies came running toward me as I passed by, so I sat down and asked them to come play. The first sniffed the pole and then my
boots before deciding he wasn’t sure. As he backed off, a smaller pup decided the boots might be safe. While I was “distracted” by that cute face, the first pup circled wide around me
before chancing a sniff of my backpack and butt. I got a butt sniff! I call that winning.

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Week 9: Tr 21 December 2017, 19:15. Cape Shirreff, Livingston Island, Antarctica

From “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing —

“Returning from a hunting trip, Orde-Lees, traveling on skis across the rotting surface of the ice, had just about reached camp when an evil, knoblike head burst out of the water just in
front of him. He turned and fled, pushing as hard as he could with his ski poles and shouting for Wild to bring his rifle.

The animal – a sea leopard – sprang out of the water and came after him, bounding across the ice with the peculiar rocking-horse gait of a seal on land. The beast looked like a small dinosaur, with a long, serpentine neck.

After a half-dozen leaps, the sea leopard had almost caught up with Orde-Lees when it unaccountably wheeled and plunged again into the water. By then, Orde-Lees had nearly reached the
opposite side of the floe; he was about to cross to safe ice when the sea leopard’s head exploded out of the water directly ahead of him. The animal had tracked his shadow across the
ice. It made a savage lunge for Orde-Lees with its mouth open, revealing an enormous array of sawlike teeth. Orde-Lees’ shouts for help rose to screams and he turned and raced away from his attacker.

The animal leaped out of the water again in pursuit just as Wild arrived with his rifle. The sea leopard spotted Wild, and turned to attack him. Wild dropped to one knee and fired again
and again at the onrushing beast. It was less than 30 feet away when it finally dropped.”

Now, YOU try placing a ski pole (for scale in a photo – as data for the seal crew) a few feet from a leopard seal the day after reading such a passage. When an adult male Antarctic fur
seal wakes up and starts whimpering from your other side, it’s hard to stand your ground and ignore the vision of the awake, charging leopard seal playing through your head. Simple
“shhhhs” to the fur seal and tiptoeing on the sand around the leopard seal seem like less than brilliant ideas. Yet you can’t help but feel a little like a badass as you gaze at the
enormous head and hidden strength sleeping on the beach in front of you. In time, you let your justified fear of the creature win out as you silently and hastily retrieve your ski pole and retreat to the higher beach before the actual badass awakens.

Yes, books about Antarctica are better read in Antarctica, as the scenes depicted can be much better understood and visualized. Reading is an adventure in itself.

My current read is the above-mentioned book, which is the amazing story of the crew of Shackleton’s would-have-been Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, who – instead of journeying across
Antarctica – lost their ship the Endurance to Weddell Sea ice and ended up living in tents while drifting on ice for over 5 months before finally managing to reach land after a wild
ride in 3 small boats. Then, in the hopes of reaching help, 6 men traveled over 800 miles across open sea in 1 of the boats. Remarkably, they made it and then hiked across South Georgia
Island, an obstacle of land that’s only been crossed by foot twice since. In all the 27 men were on their own, facing the elements for almost 2 years.

It’s impossible to imagine the mental and physical burden of being wet, exhausted, and moderately hungry for so long. As a result, I no longer feel the right to complain about anything.

Henceforth I will remind the crew how easy we have it down here. We may have wet days, but we have buildings to live in and heaters to facilitate drying. We have crab legs, Patagonian
lamb, salmon, turkeys, an ice cream maker, and many months’ worth of food; we don’t need to hunt our study animals for food. There’s no shortage of fresh water. Our lives are simple.

I’ll continue to respect leopard seals, though. We’ll always have that in common with the explorers of earlier times.

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