04 November 2004

Today, sans Bob, we all went out to Turtle Rock to finish collecting the experiment and to survey the seafloor for lost core rings (i.e. sightseeing). Being the technical person on our team, Bob stayed behind to ready the time-lapse camera that finally arrived (following a slow, unscheduled boat trip from California to New Zealand instead of a quick plane ride) and to drill more dive holes near the station. He never got around to opening the box of the camera because he was madly shoveling ice away from 5 newly drilled holes. He will be sore tomorrow.

In addition to our regular dive team out at Turtle Rock, we were accompanied by two tenders (Brian from the galley and Laura from the janitorial closet) and two members of the diving safety board: Dave Duggins from the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, and Ken Dunton from Texas A&M University.

Collecting plankton before the divers get into the water

When we first arrived, a newborn seal pup was crying near a small hole in the sea ice. Every once in awhile we heard cries back, and a large sleek, gray nose popped out of the hole, and mama and pup briefly exchanged glances. However, mama was having difficulty getting out of the hole, and it appeared that the hole wasn’t large enough her. We heard her thrashing in the water and the sound of her scraping the sides of the holes with her teeth. Seals keep their dive holes open by using their upper teeth as saws as they move their heads back and forth against the side of a hole. Often, you will see blood on the side of the hole from their constant scraping against the abrasive ice. Later, we finally saw mom happily on the surface, reunited with her pup, so she must have sawed enough to fit out of the hole. We watched the two exchange friendly nudges, and cuddly embraces while they cooed at one another. Finally, we remembered why we were there, and went back to the hut to get suited up for our dives.

South Polar Skua
Kathy and Mike dove first at an outside hole where there are settling plates that were put down on the seafloor in the early 1970s. Although it was snowing lightly, they had no problem getting into their gear and slipping beneath the icy surface. They are pros! We awaited their return before we got into the water.

While waiting, we watched a couple Skuas (polar seagulls) scavenging for any remains of the recent birth of the seal pup. Skuas are a frequent sight down here, especially around McMurdo. They often operate in groups and are stealthy at stealing food straight out of your hand. Our tender Brian was telling us stories of how the Skuas ‘learn’ to associate the blue trays that we use in the dining hall with a potential meal (funny, they are similar to us). He was joking that they were going to have a race to see who could run from the dining hall to the dorms with a blue dining tray over their head without getting bombarded by a flock of Skuas. He also told me that if you don’t like someone, put a piece of food in the hood of their red parka and then watch the Skuas attack. So now I know that I made someone mad if I find a piece of food in my hood. Kathy and Mike returned with huge smiles and stories of how pretty their dive was.

Andrew and Stacy went in to collect the remainder of the cores and I went in with Ken to look for cores that may have fallen down the slope. This was my first dive at Turtle Rock this year and I when I first jumped in, I was amazed at how different the underside of the ice was this year. It was beautifully sculpted with billows of ice hanging down, brine tubes, amazing undulations and folds from the pressure ridges buckling the ice near the shore. There were prominent white streaks from cracks in the sea ice in addition to our dive hole, which looked like the moon. We quickly descended into the dark abyss and found some really neat critters to bring to the surface to show out dive tenders. To name a few outsiders that we don’t see everyday, we saw crinoids, large isopods, a large shrimp, and even a small octopus that was just sitting on the seafloor in the open.

Crinoid, Promachocrinus kerguelensis

Small octopus

Large prawn

Spiky yellow sponge, Isodictya erinacea

This is an area with a fairly steep slope, so during our safety stop we hovered over the deep water like we were flying in air, one of the best feelings of diving. We marveled at the ice sculptures again until my lower lip and fingers felt as though they were going to break off and then we ascended to the surface to show our collections to the tenders. They marveled at the strange creatures and it was very satisfying to watch people who have never seen creatures like this before get so excited. We also found out that while we were down, Brian and Laura put masks on and stuck their faces in the water to watch us. Pretty cool!

Some of us enjoy walking underwater

Some of us enjoy flying

Another day in ‘paradice’!

Jennifer

Lets see the next day!