15 November 2004

Mexican Food
by Stacy

It seems like every day is a busy one, and a lot of what we do is repetitive (eat, dive, sieve, eat, sleep, repeat). But the unifying and distinguishing factor seems to be that all of us are missing Mexican food (though Andrew did make us excellent burritos the other night) and it is showing up in our language. Yesterday Bob and Andrew worked diligently to make a taco out of rather unusual ingredients: zip ties, vexar mesh, pvc pipe, baling wire and rope. It is actually a better fastening system that will allow us to easily (we hope) remove the fence that was around our experiment from the seafloor, since the last time we had to reattach 3 times. But they did this underwater, with Bob's ears being squeaky and Andrew with a flooded glove, so we are all sure it is a most amazing taco though we have not seen it yet.

A different kind of burrito – divers wrapped in a tarp to keep warm during the long sledge ride to the dive site at Cape Bernacchi.

A burrito eye view of the ride.

Then today, we had the first appearance of the New Harbor burrito. This species seems to frequent this area at this time of year. The ingredients are a plastic tarp, a sledge, and a diver. Because wind chill is the biggest factor in cold, we usually wrap up when traveling to and from the dive site to prevent evaporative heat loss. But the weather was incredibly gorgeous today, almost too hot. It was so hot there were large puddles along our track to Cape Bernacchi, and so while we didn’t need to burrito for warmth, it did help keep the mud off.

A demonstration of summer attire, Antarctic style. Andrew is working so hard at clearing ice that he needs to shed several layers, but retains the ever-fashionable orange pants.

We completed the sampling at Cape Bernacchi today by having 2 teams of divers go in sequentially; first Jennifer and Andrew and then Mike and I. We could only do this – have 2 divers waiting around outside - because it was such a perfect day – no wind, lots of sunshine! We even had enough time to look around a bit and saw several amazing things. A Weddell seal has been using our dive holes and making itself quite at home, and evidence of his occupation litters the seafloor under the holes. The piles of feces are white with Beggiatoa, the same microbe that grows on the outfall pile at McMurdo. And even more surprising, there is a very large octopus (the head is at least 30 cm in diameter) resting on the seafloor near the remains of another large octopus. Since cephalopods usually do not occur shallow here, I wonder if these are something the seal has brought up and stashed as food. We found evidence that Weddell seals cache food in the past: last year a hole a seal was using had 4 small dead and slightly mangled icefish in it, and in a previous year when Kathy was investigating a large Antarctic cod carcass on the seafloor a seal began acting aggressively towards her, a very rare occurrence that stopped as soon as she left the carcass alone – possibly the seal was defending a food cache. The live octopus that we see this year appears injured – one arm is necrosing and the eyes are cloudy. Along with the octopus carcass which appears incomplete, it is possible that this is more evidence of caching behavior in the Weddell seal – a behavior with is undocumented in pinnipeds anywhere else.

This is the Weddell seal that has been using our dive holes as larder and toilet. Looks like he's sleeping on a full belly!

The most exciting thing about the diving today, though, was that we finished the sampling! This takes the pressure off – even if the weather gets terrible now we have got the absolute minimum done. Whew.

Processing the samples by sieving off the sediment and retaining the microscopic fauna. We get a rough idea of the community by looking at the animals, but will have to wait to identify them in detail at home in the lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

One of our experimental treatments, recovered after 2 years on the seafloor.

To add to the celebratory nature of the day, we got presents from the helicopters all day long. They brought us water (most important, as we were down to 2 gallons), fuel (second important, as we had to stop Hotsying our holes Saturday because we had only 1 quart of Mogas left), a Siglund sled (good because we broke the runner guard on the other sledge today), parts to repair our broken snowmobile (which Bob insisted on working on late at night instead of competing in the vicious scrabble game), more tank backpacks and parts to repair a broken tank manifold – and Rob Robbins (the best thing they brought), our Diving Safety Officer and good friend. Jennifer made Chicken Florentine and Andrew made a Cheesecake to celebrate.

The reason why the snowmobiles keep breaking – lack of snow. Even the 6-wheeler nearly gets stuck in the mixture of ice, mud and water.

One of the two New Harbor snowmobiles, ancient, hardy machines, at our dive site at Cape Bernacchi. It's now sporting a new bogey wheel and new skeg, and we should have fewer reasons to demonstrate its nickname, "Kick Me."

So with full bellies it's off to bed in the midnight sunshine!

Lets see the next day!