December 5: Mission accomplished
Team departs the RV Yuzhmorgeologiya for the Chilean base
December 5, 2006
King George Island, Antarctica
The weather cooperated with our plans to depart the R.V. Yuzhmorgeologiya in order to catch our scheduled flight back to Punta Arenas. Rising early, the team loaded their gear into in bulk bags for a crane transfer into the awaiting Zodiac. We then donned Mustang suits for an exciting boat ride to shore.
The weather has improved, providing us with an opportunity to survey the nearby rocky shores of King George Island. We visited an authentic Russian chapel gracing one of the highest promenades in the area.
Immature male and female Southern Elephant seals
I was delighted to discover a pair of Southern Elephant seals lounging on a rock beach just out of sight of the bay. These were the largest pinnipeds that I’ve encountered while here and suitably demonstrate the biological productivity of the marine environment found in the Southern Ocean. Dr. Stafford suggested that the larger of the two was a 5 or 6-year-old male who was attracted to the female. Elephant seal typically breed with harems, but this was a young male that hadn’t yet developed his characteristic large proboscis.
Boarding Chilean Air Force C-130 for the mainland
Leaving the island via C-130 is an efficient means back to the mainland, when weather permits. However, poor conditions can result in major delays and, very often, cancellations. Because of the infrequency of flights out of the Antarctic Peninsula, a missed flight can mean many days of waiting in less than comfortable accommodations. Not only was the group overjoyed to hear the arriving flight first pass and, then, land safely despite some limited visibility, but smiles went around as we left the hanger and proceeded to the plane. Loud engine noise and cold atmosphere inside was dimmed by the relief of just getting out, and a subtler, more profound, experience of mission success.