Report 15: ...and finally it stopped
At 11.15 on Tuesday morning the gantry screeched to a halt for the last time and the net was lowered into its box at 65 51S 80E signifying the final act on station 16 of Transect 11 on BROKE-West, this year's largest ever interdisciplinary survey of a significant acreage of the Southern Ocean by a single orange icebreaker. The oceanographers donned thermal superhero suits, and a bottle of fake champagne flowed into several paper cups whilst the protagonists stood around, contemplated their achievement and commiserated with one another for having to put up with each other's single-minded behaviour over the last eight weeks.
Even as the net dripped its last saltwater tear onto the trawl deck the ship was making an unprecedented turn to the southwest and was heading towards Davis. Over the last 47 days we have surveyed over a million km2 and the ship is now groaning with the data that we have collected. It feels like a titanic achievement (possibly the wrong phrase in these waters) but for most of us the reality of the survey's completion is yet to sink in—it has been our life for all of 2006 so far.
Transect 10 was eventful because of its featurelessness. We steamed for nearly 300 nautical miles and failed to detect any significant quantities of life on the echosounder and certainly nothing worth putting a net into. Unexpectedly, Transect 11 turned out to be remarkably scenic throughout most of its length which kept us going as we tried to maintain focus in the dying days of the survey. In the north, in the vicinity of BANZARE Bank, there were numerous icebergs and many of these were jade bergs and the occasional deviation from the transect line might have been associated with their appearance. To cap it all the sun emerged, bringing out hordes of photographers who were unused to seeing either icebergs or sunshine this far north. As we sailed south we encountered pack ice and the last two stations were conducted in leads surrounded by ice and curious penguins.
We have spent the last few days in almost exactly the same way that we have occupied ourselves over the last 2 months—dropping large pieces of expensive sampling equipment over the side of the ship and steaming slowly between imaginary points highlighted on the ship's navigational computer. The work has continued and there were even surprises right up until the end. Elephant and fur seal were observed, completing our collection of Antarctic pinnipeds. A rash of novel whale species appeared to brighten up the whaleos' (those scientists obsessed with whales) days. The krill night shift appalled themselves, and everyone else aboard, by catching 40 kg of krill on Sunday night which sent So scurrying to check whether he had exceeded his permitted quota or if he was going to have to apply for a commercial fishing licence. The night shift responded in a far more subtle way by catching modest numbers of four different species of krill in a single haul. Jason surprised himself by retrieving the second of his moorings—which resulted in a much reduced demand on the ship's dwindling supply of Valium. And to top it all, the oceanographers collected an interesting salinity reading!