Icebergs! Humpback whales! Glaciers! Penguins! Seals! Radioactive
substances! I don’t even know where to start, so I guess I’ll go
Two days ago we arrived at Palmer Station. I woke up at 3am to catch the
scenery as we passed through a narrow strait, with rocky and icy cliffs on
either side and small icebergs (which are apparently called “growlers” if
they’re under 15 meters across) floating all around us.
At Palmer, we were treated to a Zodiac tour of the surrounding islands.
Zodiacs are small, inflated rubber boats, so we were right on the water,
motoring through chunks of brash ice. A pod of six humpbacks were diving
about thirty feet from us. On one of the islands was a colony of penguins,
so of course we stopped there. I had been sitting on some rocks, focused
on videoing a couple penguin chicks who were hopping around for a while
when I turned to grab my still camera, and standing right next to me was a
little Adelie penguin, just staring at me. Under the Antarctic Treaty,
you’re not allowed to touch wildlife. But if they touch you, it’s not a
violation of the treaty… SCORE!
As we left the island, we saw a giant glacier calving, but had to book it in our tiny Zodiac to escape the resulting wave. The weather turned suddenly, so we headed back to Palmer. On the way, we saw a dead penguin floating in the water, and had to pick it up for the “birders,” who are the group of scientists studing the bird life around Palmer.
Their lab at the station is by far the best-decorated, with Christmas tree lights covering the ceiling and ladies’ underwear hanging decoratively from the light fixtures. Palmer Station is a hilariously strange place–but I
wouldn’t expect any less from a group of 40 people left alone in the
Antarctic wilderness for months at a time. More on Palmer soon…