That was one once in a lifetime experience.
There are different factors that organisms living in the ice edge might be exposed to compared to organisms living under full coverage of ice, and we went there to get some zooplankton samples and to get an idea of how much light penetrates in the water column at different distances from the ice edge. We also collected data about the temperature and salinity in the water column at the ide edge. Overall a very productive trip.
Apart from all the science fun, the trip to the ice edge was in itself a great experience. We got there by helicopter, which was my first time flying in a helicopter and we had a great view of Ross Island. The pilot has to fly over the edge to sight an area that looks safe for landing and in this process, we got a breath-taking view on the mountains and the actual open water. That was when I spotted the first whale. We landed once and the field safety guy drilled a hole in the ice to check for the ice depth, for safety the helicopter keeps its engine on and just touches the ice, in case the ice thickness is not enough for its weight. During this brief waiting time, I could see in the distance a group of penguins jumping out of the water in the distance! It was an indescribable sight. We took off again and the next time we landed and off loaded.
Once out of the helicopter, it was an overload of beauty. The sky was clear with a very warm light. There were whales in the water, some of them coming up very close to where the field safety crew were setting up the ropes for our sampling. Penguins in the distance, across the small channel. Mountains with snowy tops, and Mount Erebus was a very clear sight. I had that very clear feeling that this would be an experience that was unlikely to happen again in my life.
When I finally got to approach the actual ice edge to deploy the CTD with Kirstin, the whales were not there in the channel anymore and the penguins were farther way. It still was a very serene view to look at the penguins and whales in the distance. To our surprise the penguins that were far, started running in the direction of the channel we were sampling, and they jumped straight in the water, not too far from us. There they were, this large group of penguins swimming so close to us! We started retrieving the CTD, which is quite labor intensive to do by hand. As the CTD was getting closer to the surface, a minke whale came to the surface in the channel. That was a very fast moment and blissful moment.
The flight back was nice and we flew over the icebreaker channel and could spot many whales out of the window.
I came back to McMurdo feeling very privileged to have experienced such special moments. After that, I was back to the Crary lab to work on the report that is due on Thursday morning.