22:17, January 23rd

Ships make an unbelievable number of noises.  Engine rumble, generator rumble, water sloshing in pipes as the boat rocks, waves crashing against the hull.  The thunk of ice as we plow straight through it (quoth Chance
Miller: “It’s like we’re driving a giant Tonka truck!”).  Loose porthole covers creaking.  The bow thrusters, which sound exactly like a rocket launching, and are conveniently located just below my bunk (least favorite wake-up call ever: “GADOOOOSHHHS HSHKSKKSKS  KSKSKSSSSSH HHHHHHHHHH!! KSSSHRRRRRSSSSSSSOOOOOOOSHSHHHHHH!!!!!”).  The hydraulics on the several-ton crane on the back deck.  The sonar ping every two seconds (nicknamed “The Chirp,” it sounds like a cross between a faucet dripping and a bird).

When I’m not on the boat, I suddenly realize how quiet it seems.  Where’s the electronics-buzz?  Isn’t the engine running?

Today I got off the boat for the first time in about three weeks.  We’ve left Ocean Station Obama (which turned out to be a big hit with the press), and circled back to pick up the birders.  Five days ago we left the birders (two people who study penguins) to stay in a minivan-sized, leaky makeshift hut on Avian Island.  The island is home to something like 80,000 breeding pairs of penguins, along with elephant seals, fur seals, and a few other birds.  Avian is beautiful.  It also smells like a thousand port-a-johns shoved into a bad seafood restaurant.

Before picking up the birders, we indulged in a little tourism with the Zodiacs.  We lowered the Zodiacs into the water with the crane, and motored out to a nearby rocky beach at the foot of a glacier, where we found an old british airplane wreck, and an abandoned Chilean Antarctic base.  Now overrun with angry elephant seals and a handful of Weddell seals, the base consisted of a few old wooden shacks perched high on the rocks.  “Rustic” might be generous.  Most of the paint had peeled off the buildings, and the wood was beginning to rot away.  Eerily, though, the interior of the buildings seemed untouched.  Old bedding was still on the cots, skis were still leaning against the wall, pots and pans were left sitting on the counters, and photos of naked women were still stuck on the walls.  Oh, Antarctica.

Tomorrow we’ll make a stop at Rothera, a British Antarctic base, before steaming 20 hours to Charcot Island, which will be the farthest south the Gould has ever been.

03:45, January 19th

Good news: I can almost feel my hand again!  I’ve just gotten back inside after filming humpback whales for the last hour.  There were four of them, barely 50 feet from the bow of the ship, having some kind of feeding frenzy.  It was “sunrise,” which, in Antarctica, isn’t so much a transition from night to day as it is a pink-hued transition from a dusky purple sky to a bright blue one.  We’re far enough north that the sun dips just below the horizon, but far enough south that it never gets dark.  Sunrise and sunset are more or less one continuous act, as the sun moves diagonally across the sky.  The whales were so close that we could hear them breathing, and could clearly make out the expandable ridges on their gargantuan chins.  They spent an hour rolling around at the surface–diving, blowing bubbles, waving at us with their fins, gulping krill with their mouths.  I think if my mouth were as proportionally large as theirs, it would stretch from the top of my head down almost to my bellybutton.  They have big mouths.

Today begins the three days of Ocean Station OBAMA.  Chief Scientist Doug is getting interviewed on NPR soon.

Time to go warm up my fingers before they fall off.

18:42, January 12th

In honor of Inauguration Day, we decided to name an upcoming sampling site OBAMA (Ocean Biology and Antarctic Marine Analysis, or something cheesy like that).

Turns out, one of the scientists on board is friends with Obama’s new science advisor, and sent him an email about OBAMA.  The response was as follows: the President will love this.  Send us more info.

We are all completely dorking out, fretting over what to say in our must-be-perfect one-page memo to the Obama Administration.  Suggestions?