When the annual Ross Sea ice melts this area comes alive with lots of wildlife, especially at the edge of the ice shelf (which doesn’t melt). Adelie and Emperor penguins come out and can be seen just about anywhere… even walking right down the center of McMurdo Station! In addition to the penguins, the melting ice attracts more seals and both Minke and Orca (Killer) whales. They are all looking for food and since they are mammals, they need air to breathe. The ice edge has a lot of wildlife activity and Orcas will come to hunt Minkes, seals, and sometimes a penguin. The Orcas live together in Pods that span many generations. They are amazing animals and will start communicating with their young when they are still in the mother’s womb. The scientists that study them say that their communication and ability to transfer knowledge between generations actually rivals humans! When you watch them hunt in packs and look for seals sitting on ice floes you will believe it. They are highly intelligent.
The Minke whales are plankton eaters and are also pretty curious. They will poke their heads out of the water and look at you if you are on the ice edge. The penguins and seals are sometimes curious too and have been known to just walk, or waddle, up to you. It seems they all like to sleep a lot!
A Minke whale cruising the ice edge with some sleepy seals in the background.
A pod of Minke whales getting ready to dive under the ice near the pressure ridges. The pressure ridges are caused by the ice shelf pressing against a land mass and causing the ice to buckle. There are almost always seals nearby due to the cracks that are formed.
Some sleepy Adelie penguins basking in the sun at Hut Point, McMurdo Station. They come ashore to escape the seals and whales that might want to eat them. These ones are just getting ready to molt.
Cute Adelie penguins sleeping on Hut Point in McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Emperor penguins just starting to molt. During the molting process they will replace their feathers and won’t enter the water because they are won’t be waterproof and would get cold. Molting can take up to a month. They get nice and fat before the molt because they won’t be able to eat or catch fish until their new coat of feathers is ready for swimming.
Emperor penguins that are molting. You can see they are starting to lose feathers on their backs. Emperor penguins are very large compared to Adelies and can measure up to about 3 feet tall when standing up straight. They don’t have any land predators so they just hang out and watch you take pictures of them. Sometimes they will approach you when they are curious.
An Emperor penguin hanging out on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
I’ve been fortunate lately in terms of wildlife… I’ve seen some seals and penguins recently and happened to have my nice camera and telephoto lens at the time. The seals and penguins don’t have any land predators here in Antarctica, so they don’t usually run away when you happen along. In fact they pretty much just sit there and let you take photos as long as you want. The National Science Foundation has guidelines that we must follow in terms of our interaction with wildlife. Basically you can’t get too close, and if the animal reacts to you, you are too close and need to back away. That’s when having a 250mm zoom lens and 18 megapixel camera really help. The pictures can be enlarged and cropped to show amazing detail.
I went back to the pressure ridges near Scott Base and got some great seal shots. They are really coming out in masses now. The males sometimes have wounds from battling with other each other. The pressure ridges are very beautiful on their own, but they are also a great place to see a lot of seals. The seals congregate at the cracks in the ice because they don’t have to use their teeth to keep the ice open. They love to just bask in the sun all day.
A male Weddell Seal with some recent battle wounds.
A Weddell Seal lazily basking in the Antarctic sun. They remind me of sleeping dogs and almost look cute and cuddly… but probably stink of fish.
A cute Weddell Seal at the pressure ridges near Scott Base Antarctica.
I also saw an Emperor Penguin along the Ice Shelf road to Pegasus airfield recently. I was out moving snowmobiles because they were going to blast a nearby cornice that was unsafe to work under. While moving them I thought I saw a fake cutout of a penguin along the ice road. As I continued down the road I realized it was a real penguin that was sitting motionless as it molts it’s feathers. I had my nice camera and big lens so that I could capture the explosions, and happened to get some bonus shots of this beautiful Emperor.
An Emperor Penguin that is molting. The photo was taken along the ice shelf road to Pegasus airfield in Antarctica.
An Emperor Penguin near Scott Base Antarctica. This image was taken with a big zoom lens to get more detail. These penguins are quite large and I actually thought it was fake as it was right along the ice shelf road to Pegasus airfield. It is molting (losing it’s feathers) so they just sit motionless as they lose their feathers and grow new ones. This process can take weeks and they just sit there because they aren’t waterproof until their new coat is in.
Howdy everyone. It’s been busy down here in Antarctica. Now that we have funding to continue the science projects the scientists are ready to get into the field for their research. Below are a few more of the vehicles that are used down here. I have also attached a few paintings that I did for the McMurdo Craft Show.
A Pisten Bully that has a ground penetrating radar attached to the front. This is used for traverses to the South Pole and other deep field camps. The radar is used to detect crevasses. Believe it or not, people and tractors have fallen into very deep crevasses.
Me in front of a Challenger. This vehicle is used for the South Pole Traverse. Fuel bladders, supplies, and living modules are towed behind these to get fuel, and supplies to the South Pole.
A Kress vehicle. The National Science Foundation uses these to transport people and cargo from arriving flights on the Sea Ice Runway.
A side view of the Kress vehicle. It’s HUGE!!!
This is a Twin Otter plane. It’s used to fly to remote field camps. You can actually fit a few snowmobiles in the back too.
Ski Doo snowmobiles out on the Ross Sea Ice. I maintain these snowmobiles and train users how to ride them.
This is my beginner snowmobile training course. It’s on the Ross Sea Ice in front of McMurdo Station. New riders learn the basics of snowmobiling under my watchful eye.
A watercolor painting of Hut Point and the Royal Society mountain range of Antarctica. The hut is Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Hut. I am a Hut guide and give guided tours of the historic huts in Antarctica. I totally love it! : )
Small postcard sized watercolor painting of an Emperor Penguin that I painted for the McMurdo Station craft show.