Walruses and polar bears, oh my!

It has been a big week on the ship. On Tuesday morning, the ship began sailing in icy water. Now, the Healy crushes ice while steaming. Sailing over the ice sounds a bit like thunder and feels like a cross between turbulence and driving over the rumble strips on the side of the road. The only differences is that it happens all of the time, whether I’m working in lab, walking around with a bowl of soup or climbing stairs.

In the lower latitudes, there were plenty of walruses to see. A lot of the scientists enjoyed seeing the mammals lazily lay on the ice. But after seeing the walruses, we were more excited to see polar bears. On Thursday afternoon we had our first polar bear sighting! We received word of the bear via our pagers, which was the best page I’ve received thus far. As soon as people read their pagers, everyone dropped what they were doing to go out on deck to look. The bear was over two miles away, and blended in with the white surroundings. It took a while to spot, but eventually I saw a relatively yellowish (compared to the white ice/snow) creature moving about on the ice. The sighting left everyone giddy and ready to see more bears.

We had our first ice operations meeting, in which we learned about bear safety. With the world’s largest quadrupedal predator in the area we have to be on alert at all times when we leave the ship. Polar bears can run 25-30 miles per hour over short distances, and can smell 20 miles away. I’ll have more to report on ice operations when we actually begin sampling out on the ice.

The other bit of excitement this past week was the air drop that occurred on Wednesday. The Coast Guard sent a C-130 to drop a package in the ocean near the ship, which was retrieved by the small boat. The package contained a heater for the GEOTRACES winch (the line that lowers the rosette into the ocean). The winch is rated to 40 °F, which is a problem because current temperatures are below 30 °F and are dropping daily.

In the lab I’m continuing to encounter problems with my analytical set up. Currently, Team Mercury believes my problems stem from the cold temperatures, so we’re doing our best to consistently heat my workspace. I’d like to get the problems sorted so I can do more analysis and less troubleshooting. Carl and I made a lot of progress yesterday, so I’m hopeful that today will be better.


Walruses group on ice floes until they melt or sink, then they move on to another ice floe.

One last note, we’ve reached 80 °N, so the ship no longer has internet. If you’d like to send me a note, please use my ship email, which works because of the iridium network. Send any jokes, notes or updates to me at alison.agather(at)healy.polarscience.net. I’d love to hear from any and all of you!

2 thoughts on “Walruses and polar bears, oh my!

  1. Hi Alison! I hope you are well. Your Mom is keeping me posted of you adventures! What a trip of a lifetime. You can tell how proud she is of you! It is a cool look to see! Your aren’t missing much in the Hood. Keep the posts coming I loved reading about you playing football at the North Pole – cause that’s how they roll up there huh?

    Oh – and Rob has joined the Rugby team at Michigan – so much for the braces he had…….


    Office 952.826.5701 // Cell 612.961.9777 // *rgibson@lifetouch.com * // http://www.lifetouch.com


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