Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mikkelsen Harbour, South Shetland Islands

Coming in to Mikkelsen Harbour
Breakfast inhaled, layering-on of clothes completed, it was time to board the early morning zodiac for a cruise over to  Mikkelsen Harbour.  The temperature's a toasty -2C, and the winds were soft and refreshingly pleasant, gently moving the deeply distressing post-breakfast aroma of penguin poo away from our ship.

Mikkelsen Harbour is actually an islet in a small bay that graces the south side of Trinity Island.  Discovered by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-4 it soon became a moorage for whalers.

After another (routine, now) wet landing, we got an immediate glimpse into Mikkelsen Harbour's grim history as a fledging platform for whalers.  (Fledging is the process of removing a whale's outer layer of blubber.)  The bones of long dead whales, and long dead wooden boats littered our landing area, their decay slowed by the cold and dry climate.  While other members of our landing party climbed the hill, I sat, looked at the bones, and thought of pictures of the past not taken... and stories never told.  Some people claim that Antarctica impels subtle changes to occur within one's psyche.  Within one's soul.
Could this be happening to me?
Whale bones next to dory
Very little of the whale was used, the rest left to rot.
A brief chronology of Antarctic whaling:
1842 - British explorer James Clark Ross reports that, along the Antarctic peninsula, whales were so thick that they bumped his ship.  Unfortunately that word quickly spread.  Greed ensued.
1868 - Svend Foyn invents the explosive harpoon head.
1904 - Another Norwegian, Carl Anton Larsen, establishes the first commercial whaling station at Grytviken, South Georgia Island.  They kill 184 whales in their first year.  In the next 10 years, whalers off Grytviken killed 1738 blue whales, 4776 fin whales, and 24,891 hump back whales.  All slow swimmers.  All easy targets.  The whalers only wanted the oil.  It was easy to process on-shore, ship home, and sell, for use as lubricants and clean burning lamp fuel.  The oil was extracted from the layer of surface blubber on the whale.  Very little of the rest of the carcass was used, and was abandoned on shore to simply rot.  Whale bones litter the beaches as evidence of whaler's waste.
1929 - Advancing technology and faster ships yielded a little over 40,000 whales killed in the Antarctic alone.  By this time, the slower species have now become near extinct, and whaling begins looking at the smaller, faster whales.
1937 - The International Agreement for the Regulation of Whaling is signed in London.
1938 - A record 40,039 whales are killed in Antarctic waters.  At least that's how many were reported to whaling authorities.  Technology, politics, waste, lies, and greed march ever onward.
1946 - The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling is signed in Washington, DC.  Doesn't even bother to meet until three years later.
1964 - Antarctic whalers find only 20 blue whales all year.  Of course they kill them.  Not a profitable year.
1987 - Commercial whaling in the Antarctic is frozen by an internationally agreed-upon moratorium.  Coincidentally, this same year, the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru #3, along with its catcher ships, kill over three hundred minke whales... claim is for "research" purposes only.  (Sorry, I should have characterized Maru #3 as a Japanese research ship.)  Not profitable at all. It may have been suggested by some people that Japanese organized crime may have possibly applied pressure for a government subsidy to the whaling industry, and may have possibly had some financial interests in companies that process whale oil, whale meat, etc.  This is, of course, intensely unsubstantiated to this day.

What Japanese "Research" might look like
The good news:  In recent years, I've seen some change in public sentiment.  The scientific importance of pristine, unsullied places like Antarctica is becoming more recognized.  The pure and clean air, water, and ice on the continent are benchmarks for studying changes in the Earth's atmosphere, both natural and human-induced.  Please do whatever you can to promote conservation, and continue to help take care of our little blue planet.  
Please support Greenpeace.  Thank you.

The chief residents of the tiny island moorage are the Gentoo penguins that nest on its rocky slopes and weddell seals that haul out onto its rocky beaches.

I was fascinated by the interaction amongst the penguins and their broods... There were hundreds of them, seemingly wandering from nest to beach, beach to nest... or just wandering aimlessly.  Come to think of it, so was I...

 Their little wings and brushy tails extended for balance, they all seemed in a hurry...

... to get somewhere.

There is a semi-abandoned Argentine outpost on the island, repainted every few years in the glorious blue and white Argentine flag colours.
Argentine outpost
Argentine sailors looking for the navigation mast
 Hey guys, it's behind you!

Sailor: "Let's go check out that navigation beacon antenna."
Naturalist:  "Nope, you'll disturb the nesting birds."
Sailor:  "They're just birds."
Naturalist:  "Yes, and because Argentina is a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty, you'll NOT be disturbing the birds.  End of debate.  Enjoy your stay, mates."
Sailor:  "Aye, aye, mate."

This is an image of the "installation" with the Argentine navy boat in the background in open water... I said hola to the sailors as they passed by, and was immediatly surrounded by the military!  They spoke as much English as I did El Espanol... turns out they were just finishing up their two-year tour and were desperate to talk to anybody... in any language.  They were very nice, polite fellows, and we had a great time visiting with each other.  International diplomacy marches on, as long as it's not with a British accent.  You know... that little unpleasantness in the Falklands... uh, I meant to say Las Malvinas.

Life with the Penguinos -
Pops:  Hi Hon, I'm home from eating krill and stuff in the ocean, and I'm really beat.  Buuurrrrrppp.  I brought you a purloined rock for our nest (plop).  I'll take my turn now, sitting on junior.

The eggschange.
Mom:  It's about time you sit on our egg, I'm starving.  Just tuck it under your pot-belly and keep it warm.
Mom:  No, you're doing it wrong.  Can't you just push it back a little further between your stinkin webbed feet?  Can't you do Anything right?"

... a family "discussion"
Pops:  I've been sitting on this egg off and on for three @#%# weeks now.  I KNOW HOW TO SIT ON A DAMNED EGG!"  (Mumbles...)  Now go eat something for crissakes!  You're always SO cranky when you're hungry!"

  Mom:  Okay.  That's cool.  Buh-bye.  I'll just tool on down a grab a quick bite... brb.
Out to lunch.  FINALLY !

the Weddells -

Mmm.  Naptime.
 If the seals aren't eating or playing... there sleeping.  Just like Rowdy, Gigi, and Zoey.

Come to think of it, I'm sleepy too.

I love a nap, after mealtime, but sometimes fish gives me indigestion.  Right here...

Haha.  I farted.  I'm better now.

ur so juvenile sometimes...

Well, I wouldn't ever want to be a kid again.  After this many years on the face of the earth, I guess that I've become a bit staid and stuffy.  Age'll do it every time.  It's an eventuality that cages you... traps you into being... respectable.  Wise.  Composed.  Collected.


Race ya to the bottom!

You are so ON chump ! ! !
(What dignified might look like)
YeeHaaa, I win! ! ! !

Next... a zodiac cruise into an unreal, unimaginable world... Spert Island.

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