Fear not! I haven’t been eaten by a skua…

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Approximately 0130

Greetings and salutations to you all!

Yes I know it’s been 20 long days since I last blogged and informed you all of what has been going on.  For that, I apologize.  It has just been crazy busy down here on the Ice.

Our Chief arrived in the beginning of the month, which meant everyone was rushing to memorize the points of the Leadership Star.  The points of the star are as follows:  Create the Future, Lead with Character, Build Through Teamwork, Inspire Commitment, and Deliver Results.  Sure, it doesn’t  sound like an awful lot of information to memorize, but we have to be able to name a point on the star and why it is important to us if we are asked.  There are also times when we have DVs (Distinguished Visitors)*more on this later* and we must be able to recite a point on the star for them.  No pressure right?  Yeah, I turn into a jittery, stuttering fool when put on the spot.  I could write a five paragraph paper on each topic, but to be expected to give an oral response… forget about it.  I get nervous speaking in front of people.  Unless they’re kids.  So this was just a bit of pressure for me. 

Along with the Chief, we have also gotten (and unfortunately lost) several members of our staff.  We’ve had a few people resign and move on to different opportunities and we’ve lost another member due to his own actions.  I’m really not sure what happened to him exactly, but c’est la vie. 

Right now, we’re working on converting the “Dispatch Bible” to an electronic form instead of the huge bulky book that we rely on for about 80% of our activities in dispatch.  The book holds all of the information regarding In Flight Emergencies, Key Contact Phone Numbers, Power Outage Procedures… A bit of everything really.  The project is going to be a huge undertaking, but split between five of us, it shouldn’t be too bad.

We here at the Firehouse (along with everyone else in McMurdo) has also been gearing up from the MCI drill.  MCI meaning Mass Casualty Incident.  Yes, this means I get to play on the radio during chaos.  For those of you know me from dispatching, you know that this thrills me like nothing else.  I love a bit of chaos every now and again.  I’m also the one that gets to work the primary radio during the event.  All of the dispatchers will have to be present for the drill but… Yeah, I get the radio.  The event will be on Thanksgiving!  I am sure I will be thankful when it is over.

Basically a wrap up on what has been going on at work, things have been hectic.  We’ve got people coming and going.  I work with a really great group of people and I enjoy the conversations I have with each and every one of them. 

In other news…

The weather is warming up.  We’ve recently had several days where the tempature has reached freezing.  Yes, it has already reached 32 degrees (F) here and the snow/ice on the ground is starting to melt.  The past several mornings when leaving work, I’ve had to use extreme caution when walking home due to the treacherous path.  Ok, it’s not really that bad, but when ice melts and then re-freezes and THEN gets covered with a light dusting of snow (because it gets warm enough to snow) it can be kind of tricky walking home.  This morning I was chatting with one of the Beakers (scientists – hey we like nicknames!) and I was warning him to be careful when he was walking home.  Our conversation went somewhat like this:

Me: “Good Morning!  Be careful walking over to Crary, it’s kinda slickery out there.”

Beaker:  “But aren’t we on a southern island?”

Me:  “Yes”

Beaker:  “And isn’t Tahiti a southern island?”

Me:  *thinking  ‘I don’t do geography early in the morning and where is he going with this’* “yeah…”

Beaker:  “Well, I don’t see how it can be that bad, we’re even further south! Haha!”

Silly Beakers

Me:  “True, well try not to get a sunburn and enjoy the balmy weather today!”

Beaker:  “Ok, sleep well!”

Beaker walks down the stairs, takes four steps and I see the left foot slide forward a bit, the right foot slide out to the right hand side (I wish I had my camera at the ready), and his arms flapped up and down like an Adelie penguin briefly, AND THEN…. he regained his footing.  (Sigh)  Not that I want to see anyone get hurt, but it just seems I haven’t actually seen anyone fall!  Other than myself.  And I’m sure it was more amusing to the onlookers than it was to myself.

So the Beaker was halfway to Crary before he realized he forgot his key card.  Everyone that works in crary has an electronically read card to access the building.  He then turned around and headed back to our building and THAT is when he noticed I saw his almost-fall.  I was nice and didn’t make any comments to him about trying to warn him or the fact that I-told-him-so.  He could tell.  I said it with my eyes.

Those were the events of this morning before I had almost 4 hours of training after a 12 hours shift.

Sorry, lack of sleeping is making me a bit scatterbrained today.  On to other informative and exciting news!  “oohhhh, ahhhh!”

Now, you all know that I have seen the Weddell Seals at Hut Point, and I haven’t posted any pictures or postings of penguins (HAH!  Say that five times fast), but the other wild creature of Antarctica has arrived.  Yes, the dreaded Stercorarius antarcticus or Brown Skua (a.k.a. dirty seagull, Antarctic Skua, Southern Great Skua, or Hākoakoa (Maori)) has arrived. This is the heaviest species of skua and rivals the largest gulls as the heaviest species in the shorebird order although not in length or wingspan. It is 52–64 cm (20–25 in) in length, 126–160 cm (50–63 in) in wingspan and has a body mass of 1.2–2.13 kg (2.6–4.7 lb).  They have longish bills with a hooked tip, and webbed feet with sharp claws. They look like large dark gulls, but have a fleshy cere above the upper mandible. The skuas are strong, acrobatic fliers. They are generally aggressive in disposition. Potential predators who go near their nest will be quickly dived at by the parent bird, which usually targets the head of the intruder. – *Wikipedia

The first morning that I encountered a Skua, I thought I was hallucinating.  I was walking home after a long, uneventful shift, minding my own business.  I looked off in the distance and thought “hrm.  It’s a bird flying between Gallaghers and Southern”…  My second thought was “penguins don’t fly”… My third thought was “Oh crap, it’s a Skua and it’s flying AT ME”. 

Not my photo but, imagine my fear:

Fear me for I am SKUA!!!

***Fun fact about Tori – She’s not scared of birds (or, wasn’t until the close call with the dirty seagull) but she is TERRIFIED of alligators and crocodiles.  Ask my family why.  I get goosebumps just thinking about it.***

For some bizarre reason (I think it’s because I’ve watched Jurassic Park far too many times), but I immediately thought, bird = dinosaur, dinosaur = alligator, alligator = run in a zig zag pattern to avoid being eaten.  Yes, I am sure I looked a bit foolish zig-zagging back and forth looking for an unlocked door to open and dive into the entrance of any building.  I managed to escape the bird at the last minute.  Okay, it might not have been the last minute, but it sounds more exciting to put it that way.  At work that evening, I made this:

Yes, I find myself highly amusing at times.  But you CANNOT tell me that there isn’t a resemblance! …. *silence* I rest my case. 

Whew.  Okay, sorry I had a bit of a flashback there. 

Thus far, my total Skua sitings have been seven.  Yes and since the first encounter,  each time I see one of the dreaded birds, the theme for Jaws runs through my head.  They like to fly in circular patterns around me.  “You know what that sound is your highness?…They always grow louder when they’re about to feed on human flesh”.  Actually, I couldn’t tell you what kind of noise skuas make.  I normally hear the “UM, ER, UH, GAH, BIRD!” coming from people around me if one is approaching me from behind.  Skuas are feared like no other animal in Antarctica.  Except for that one lady who’s leg got caught beneath a seal earlier this year.  I’m sure she doesn’t think the weddells are cute and cuddle-y any more. 

No I don’t know what she was doing that close to a seal.  Yes, it is against the Antarctic Treaty.

Hope you all are well and to those of you have been wondering where I am, I thank you for your concern!

Hallo-weird / Not kid friendly – possibly not work safe


The biggest party that I’ve yet attended here on the Ice.

Halloweird is a better description of it.  I loved it though.  I didn’t dress up.  Well actually I tried to but my vampire bite marks weren’t sticking very well.  I ended up wearing a black shirt and saying I was paparazzi.  I’m attaching a slide show – there are some interesting costumes so if you have young impressionable children, use your discretion.  Also, you may not want to watch this at work.  Some of the costumes, though fun, might not be appropriate for your place of business.

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On a note of awesomeness – the guy dressed as Oscar the Grouch won Best Overall Costume.  He’s one of my firefighters.  We rock.

Observation Tube and I can walk on water (if it’s frozen)

Yes, I’ve been horrible at posting updates on here, so your treat is multiple posts in one day!

I’m pretty sure I mentioned the Ob Tube before, however, in case I haven’t, it is basically a long tube that goes below the ice and into the water (there’s a glass casing at the bottom for unparalleled views of what happens “Under the Sea”here at McMurdo).  I, however, will not be going into the tube.  I walked down to the tube (because we believe in the buddy system here on the ice) with Pam, and upon arriving at said contraption, I decided that the round tertiary creature that I am does not need to go into a TUBE under the ICE and into the WATER.  I’m not chicken, I just don’t want someone to have to call my job and tell them that I’m stuck either getting into the tube or coming out of the tube.  I’m sure there are cranes around here but I don’t need to be known as the girl that got stuck in the Ob Tube.

Since I accompanied Pam out onto the Ice, I decided that I could hang out for a bit and take some pictures, again in black and white (oh, ok, a few color ones too).  I also had her take a picture of me in one of my snazzy hats that my Grandma sent me.

Since I didn’t go down into the tube, I’m including pictures that other people have taken while in the tube.  The ones that are not taken of the happenings beneath the ice are, again, not works by me, but I want you all to enjoy seeing what I’ve heard so much about.

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The land of ice in black and white

Technically, it’s November 1st, 2011 here on the ice.

I have survived the first major holiday in Antarctica.  More about Halloweird in a post to come.  This post is going to be about the beauty of Antarctica.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again.  There is no place on earth like the Ice.  I recently have decided to get a little “artsy” in my landscape photography and have converted to black and white photos.  Ah, the wonders of digital cameras.

The pictures that I’m attaching, some of you will probably recognize from other posts.  My favorite place so far to just hang out, relax, clear my head (oh and look for seals) is Hut Point (Discovery Hut).

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From Wikipedia –

Discovery Hut was built by Robert Falcon Scott during the Discovery Expedition of 1901–1904 in 1902 and is located at Hut Point on Ross Island by McMurdo SoundAntarctica. Visitors to Antarctica, arriving at either the US Base at McMurdo or New Zealand’s Scott Base are likely to encounter Discovery Hut as all three are located on Hut Point. Discovery Hut is just 300m from McMurdo Base.

Some confusion arises because Discovery Hut can correctly be referred to as Scott’s Hut, in that his expedition built it, and it was his base ‘ashore’ during the 1901–1904 expedition. But the title ‘Scott’s Hut’ correctly belongs to the building erected in 1911 at Cape Evans.

Regarding Preservation of Discovery Hut –

Shackleton advised future Antarctic explorers on the state of the hut after the Ross Sea party left it:

The stores placed there in 1902 are intact. There are a few cases of extra provisions and oil in the hut, but no sleeping gear, or accommodation, nor stoves, and it must not be looked upon as anything else than a shelter and a most useful pied-à-terre for the start of any Southern journey. No stores nor any equipment have been taken from it during either of my two Expeditions.[1]

However after Shackleton left the hut in 1917 it remained untouched until 1956 when US expeditioners dug it out of the snow and ice. It was found to be in a remarkable state of preservation, and included many artifacts from both the earlier expeditions. While some artifacts were taken as souvenirs at the time (and since), this hut remained largely as it was in 1917.

New Zealand and the UK have undertaken responsibility at various times since the 1970s to restore (largely removing snow and ice) both Scott’s hut and Discovery Hut [1][2].

While the preservation of food in the freezing temperatures and dry climate has been noted, bacterial decay still occurs. Visitors describe the seal meat preserved at the Discovery Hut as smelling ‘quite rancid’, and there are concerns that the fabric of these huts are being affected by fungal decay [3]. Both Scott’s Hut and Shackleton’s Hut have been included on the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites..

I haven’t been inside of the Hut yet, but I’m hoping to team up with one of the tour guides (also a fellow photographer) and do a “photography tour” of the hut.

Just outside of Discovery Hut is Vincent’s Cross.  From http://www.coolantarctica.com

George Vince is the first man to have lost his life in McMurdo Sound, he was one of a party of nine men who had caught out in a blizzard during an excursion from the Discovery. Instead of staying where they were and waiting for the storm to end, they decided to try to make their way back to the ship.

Vince was wearing fur-soled boots with very little grip and wandered onto a snow slope which he slipped down before falling over the cliffs at their end into the sea. The slope was later known as “Danger Slopes”, his body was never recovered. He is commemorated by a wooden cross erected by the crew and men of the Discovery that is maintained to this day by the New Zealand and US bases in McMurdo Sound.

The above statement is the reason I stick to well worn paths.  I don’t need any crosses commemorating my experience here at McMurdo.