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>Winds 10 knots
>Temp 1.5 C ; w/ wind chill -8.4 C
>Location: Latitude 58 degrees 23.85’ S; Longitude 63 degrees 09.04 W

Two images by Susie Balser:
Above: a pterobranch — notice its "feather gills"
Below: Pilidium, larva that will become a ribbon worm
Click on each image for larger view.

19 December 2004

It’s a little after 2 p.m., and we continue to make good time towards Punta Arenas. The volcanic snow-covered peaks and ice shelf vistas are far behind us, and we are left with only views of sky and water. Seabirds still glide by occasionally and we again see whale tales and penguins “flying” beneath the water’s surface. The penguins are the most amazing because they look so small and we know that we are a hundred miles from land. The sun set last night at just past nine, hours earlier than the 1 a.m. time in the Antarctic Circle. It was almost dark last night — the first time in several weeks — and we’re anxious to again see stars, instead of sea stars.

The great plankton sampling comparison began last night, but results were inconclusive. For about 120 miles, the surface water was filled with chains of salps — I am not exaggerating — we watched the salp chains drift by while our nets were in the water. They looked like mermaid’s necklaces. Consequently drift and towed net were equally clogged with salps. Salps are pelagic members of the phylum Chordata to which we humans also belong. Our efforts today were not confounded by salps, but have been thwarted by an abundance of unicellular protists (diatoms and radiolarians). Sorting through these tows was akin to looking through a bucket of lawn cuttings – it’s been a hard 12 hours for the plankton people.

We continue to organize photographs and data, and to pack — wishing at the same time to be home and to extend our voyage. We have a bit more time to talk with people now that we are no longer doing benthic tows. We hear stories from Skip from Maine and Fred from Missouri and know that work aboard a ship takes a flexible and inventive personality. We also have a chance to tour more of the LM Gould. The bridge is the quietest place on the boat with a panoramic view. The four “captains” welcome our visits and even offer us the chance to steer the boat. The many lighted consoles are intimidating and are not unlike what we expect aboard the Enterprise. Less elegant places, but equally important, include the cargo hold and the incinerator room. The cargo hold currently has two “sleeping” vans that are large containers with bunks. These accommodate the 5 people we are transporting from Palmer Station to Punta Arenas — not the luxury suites on the 01 and 02 decks, but welcome cribs to those that have been at the station for several months. The incinerator room is where trash and used oil are burned; nothing is dumped overboard, not even food scraps. Although burning adds some pollution to the air, it is preferable to littering the ocean. Within the Antarctic Circle, not even burning is allowed — in agreement with the Antarctic Treaty.

We also have more time for much-needed naps — which after another delicious chocolate chip cookie (a daily treat from the cooks) sounds like a splendid idea.

Happy Holidays to all,

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