6 December 2004 Mike's last day writing

It is hard to believe that our time here is almost up. It hit home today that we are leaving soon when we started packing up the lab, returning equipment that we had spread all over creation, and cleaning up our monstrous messes.

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One of our many tedious chores was ensuring all tools were accounted for and organized...

Rather than bore you to tears with a play-by-play rundown of how we tied up loose ends, I'll give you what you really want: CHARISMATIC MEGAFAUNA (beaker-speak for cute, cuddly animals with big eyes that you don't have to look at through a microscope)! In our case here, it means PENGUINS AND SEALS!!!

Adelie penguins making their way over the ice the 50+ miles to Cape Royds from the open sea

Us clumsy humans did not stand in the way of determined penguins passing through (Cape Byrd, Ross Island in background).

The bluffs at the Cape Royds colony, with Mount Erebus in background

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Close-up of Adelie penguins on nests, hunkered down due to 20-30 knot winds. The lone standing penguin does NOT appear to be a happy camper!
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One of the more amusing aspects of penguin-watching are their "monkey see, monkey do" behaviors. When one designated leader does something, all of the followers mimic shortly thereafter. This guy is waiting for his buddies to jump over a crack in the ice. Why do they do this? Probably to make themselves less susceptible to predation by leopard seals and orcas (in other words, "safety in numbers").

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His buddies running to catch up...
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Ready, set, JUMP!

Enough penguins - how about the WEDDELL SEALS!

This big tub-of-lard packs on the pounds to insulate himself from the frigid -1.8 degree C water.

This big mama exerted an unusual amount of effort (for a basking seal, that is) to rear her head up and flash us a look.

Her new pup this year was laying by her side, giving himself a good old-fashioned scratch

It's hard work scratching, so junior was wiped out and had to hit the hay

Final thoughts: The last two months have been one of the most - if not the most - unique, amazing experiences of my life. Words like "amazing", "incredible", "surreal" just do not do the place justice. Nor do pictures, really. There is just no substitute for actually being here in the windiest, coldest, driest, highest, loneliest place on earth and experiencing it for oneself. I wouldn't trade my time here for the world and I really appreciate Stacy giving me the opportunity to join her team for the season. It was a great time working and playing with these characters, as you can probably imagine from the pictures and stories on these web pages. It was also an immensely satisfying feeling contributing to the discovery of new knowledge while doing marine science here. Of course our project was not hatched in a vacuum, as we are standing on the shoulders of great scientists like Paul Dayton who have come here before us. We carry on their work and add our own pieces to the puzzle, building up a body of knowledge that will someday help us determine how nature and ecosystems really work. Although our work may sometimes be perceived as an academic boondoggle (after all, we do like to have fun!), we are adding our small contribution to understand how ecosystems - our life-support systems - will respond to human-caused (or abbetted) problems like habitat modification, global warming, and the Earth's 6th mass extinction event that is currently in progress.

Of course all of us here are standing on the shoulders of the great explorers of the Heroic Age like Scott and Shackleton, whose hut at Cape Evans is pictured here.

Tonight we were afforded one of our last beautiful midnight "sundips" at McMurdo station.

It's been fun - thanks for reading and B'bye!

Lets see the next day!