Back North

Southern Ocean +++ 66°’46’ S, 00°11’ E +++ -1 °C, strong winds, open water +++

21 January 2015
(by Jan Andries van Franeker)

We are on our way north, back to Cape Town. Our faulty port-side propeller is fixed in forward position and will only be used once we make no further stops for our research. We left the polynya near Neumayer station on January 13th when a barrier of 30 to 40 miles of heavily packed sea ice separated us from more open ice areas in the North. Normally, such dense ice would be no problem for Polarstern, but with only one propeller it was a tough job. It took two full days to break through the ice. Each time crawling a little distance forward until stopped by ice, then going back to gain new speed and get a few meters further. At times, we were drifting faster with the South-western currents than we made progress to the North.

On the 15th January we reached less dense sea ice, where Polarstern could make reasonable progress also on a single propeller. The counting of birds, seals and whales is a full-time job again. Bram and Jan work in shifts and get only few hours of sleep. But the journey through the ice was again magic. Especially during night, when Polarstern casts its shadow over the ice to the horizon, due to the low midnight sun. Bram rocketed sky-high, because he had his first Blue Whale sighting ever. Since then, Bram can hardly be chased out of the observation box even during his off-duty periods, because ‘you never know what comes next’. Blue Whales, the giants of all whales, were almost hunted to extinction in the Southern Ocean. The original population of 200,000 – 300,000 had been decimated to probably under a thousand individuals.

Sadly, we had to say goodbye to the sea ice on 17 January and immediately got into a storm with up to 9 Beaufort. That is not unusual in the Southern Ocean, but after a good month of quiet life in the sea ice, we all have to get used to a rocking ship again. We hope for a few more fishing attempts with our nets, and of course good weather for so we can continue bird and mammal surveys on the way home.