So unlike what I would have thought possible in Antarctica, it’s currently raining cats and dogs, the typical British-Dutch Sunday weather. I am looking back at last week and I find it difficult to pick out the highlights. Why is that? Could it be that we’re out of ‘firsts’, can even paradise become normal, or is our focus changing since we know we’ve started the last stretch of our stay here at Port Lockroy.
The penguins with their breeding cycle remind us of the latter. When we arrived in November they were flirting, then the mating and nestbuilding started, followed by eggs that hatched 1 month later and now we have about 800 gentoo chicks on the island. Impossible to not like those ‘top heavy head swinging big fluffy bum’ creatures. On the negative side: it triples the guano production on the island. The island (read: us) is getting smellier and pinker. That colour comes from the krill they feed on.
The first base leader of Port Lockroy, during Operation Tabarin in 1944, James Marr, did not only serve in the Navy but was also, and maybe even above all, a scientist. I learned this week that his book on the ‘natural history of Antarctic krill’ still provides a basis for studies on krill. The reason I looked into James Marr was that we had a visit from the Shackleton sponsor team. A team will soon re-enact the epic voyage of Shackleton from Elephant Island to South Georgia. James Marr knew Shackleton from the 1921-22 Quest expedition in which he took part as a scout. Shackleton is seen by many as an inspirational leader and we were kindly offered a book with some management lessons. Ben found a good one that we cheerfully try to put to practice; ‘delegate all the tedious jobs to the workhorses who don’t complain’. Very inspiring indeed.
On a more serious note; the explorers of the heroic age, men like Scott and Shackleton, usually get lots of attention. Living here at Port Lockroy, surrounded by all the early Antarctic science history, makes me wonder if the scientists are as much appreciated and cheered as these famous men. In a spirit of cooperation, perseverance and intellectual curiosity they substantially contributed to science today. That is what I call heroic and I am very happy to work here and to be able to tell our visitors about these often overlooked, interesting and modest men.
This week we had quite some wildlife here. The penguin chicks provide all day long entertainment. We also got a chance to see a leopard seal really close up - a very powerful, big and almost prehistoric creature that feeds on krill and penguins and in fact, anything else. I hope they will leave ‘our’ parents and kids alone and will go for the ‘anything else’. Kath is easily our best ‘looker’ on the island, whether that is in the boatshed where she always finds that very specific box that none of us can chase down, or outside when she spots rare birds or rusty wires. But this time I outclassed her by spotting whales far out in the bay from behind my laptop. I have to admit that I radioed the team on another occasion for the same reason to find out I had mistaken some bergy bits for whales. But the distant whales were exciting.
Last but not least, postmistress Flo had a surprise for us: we had an unexpected mailbag delivered. Those are really special moments. Not that we are very loquacious at these moments, as we all immediately dive into our personal letters. As for the packages, no privacy allowed, This time Flo received a rather belated Xmas gift containing lots of nice things as well as an interesting piece of overripe cheese.
Next week we’ll have a busy week with lots of visitors with whom we can share the Lockroy scientific history as well as the way these men lived their daily lives. Let’s hope the rain will stop and that instead of the oh so annoyingly familiar pattering of raindrops we will soon hear the tapping of sheathbills feet on our roof at night.
Great week to all of you in the big world.