Thank you to Class 4 at Urmston Infant School for asking Professor Stuart Egginton some great questions about his time in the Antarctic conducting research on icefish.
- What is the most interesting thing you have seen?
There’s quite a long list! The pink mountains and red sky during sunset was sometimes really stunning, sailing close to icebergs, I had a real thrill at seeing the Neumayer Channel again after 25 years (as I mentioned in the blog), and of course the science questions we’ve been asking are fascinating. But perhaps the most memorable sights have been encounters with wildlife, and two in particular will remain with me for a long time. First was a leopard seal that swam alongside the zodiac I was in, then suddenly swerved to dive under the boat. These dangerous, but beautiful creatures are so sleek they seem to glide through the water. Just as it reached the small boat it turned on its side to reveal the attractive markings along its side, clearly interested to get a peak at those of us peering over the side of the boat.
The second was during a fishing trip on the ship, late at night I was taking a break on deck admiring the moon reflecting on the water when I noticed a minke whale swimming alongside. This was during a trawl so we had slowed down quite a bit, and it maintained position for some time. There were a number of small icebergs in the vicinity, and in order to avoid one it moved sideways towards the ship so that it was only about 20 foot away from me when it breached, and I caught a glimpse of its face. There is something really special about making eye contact with wild animals, a real privilege.
- Have you done any skiing or sledging?
Unfortunately, not this time. When we arrived on Anvers Island there was lots of snow, but the first month was really hectic assembling the laboratory, testing equipment, and making sure all the experiments would work. By the time we managed to take any time off the seasonal winds had picked up, making it too dangerous to ski on the glacier. Then it rained and all the snow was washed off! Temperatures dropped again but this just left a slippery sheet of ice, not too much fun for an amateur skier such as myself. I have done some sledging at other bases where there is either deeper snow, or over the frozen sea. Palmer Station is surrounded by rough rocks now the ice has retreated, but not enough packed snow to make that a suitable mode of transport – walking requires sturdy boats and a strong stick!
I hope that answers your questions, I am always happy to talk more about the experience.