Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Abounding life in Antarctica

The following excerpt comes from Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing (New York: Basic Books 2007), which tells the story of a doomed 1915 attempt to cross the Antarctic. The ship entered a pack a sea-ice floes, which eventually surrounded the ship, froze, and crushed her over a period of months. Its crew, lead by the legendary Ernest Shackleton, survived in the ship, on the ice, and on an island for more than a year.

Photo by Frank Hurley
I highlighted the following passage because it disabused my own misunderstanding that the Antarctic would be a lifeless desert.

But they had not yet even crossed the Antarctic Circle, though the summer had already officially begun. It was now light twenty-four hours a day; the sun disappeared only briefly near midnight, leaving a prolonged, magnificent twilight. Often during this period, the phenomenon of an "ice shower," caused by the moisture in the air freezing and settling to earth, lent a fairlyland atmosphere to the scene. Millions of delicate crystals, frequently thin and needle-like in shape, descended in sparkling beauty through the twilight air.

And though the [ice] pack in every direction appeared to stretch in endless desolation, it abounded with life. Finner, humpback, and huge blue whales, some of them a hundred feet long, surfaced and sported in the leads of open water between the floes. There were killer whales, too, who thrust their ugly, pointed snouts above the surface of the ice to look for whatever prey they might upset into the water. Overhead, giant albatross, and several species of petrels, fulmars, and terns wheeled and dipped. On the ice itself, Weddell and crabeater seals were a common sight as they lay sleeping.
Emperor penguins. Photo by Glenn Grant, National Science Foundation
 And there were penguins, of course. Formal, stiff-necked emperors, who watched in dignified silence as the ship sailed past them. But there was nothing dignified about the little Adélies. They were so friendly they would flop down on their bellies and toboggan along, pushing with their feet and croaking what sounded like "Clark! Clark!" . . . especially, it seemed, if Robert Clark, the gaunt and taciturn Scottish biologist, happened to be at the wheel.
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing (New York: Basic Books 2007), page 27.

1 comment:

  1. "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."