Week 2 - Wildlife encounters

A group of 10 expeditioners at Shirley Island.
Some of the Aurora Basin team members at Shirley Island, near Casey. (Mana is fourth from the left). (Photo: AAD)
A collection of medicines for altitude sickness.An Adelie penguin in front of a green Hägglunds at Casey stationTwo Adelie penguins on the ice

It’s been a week since we arrived in Casey station. We are settling in well and busy preparing for the field, such as sorting cargo, testing equipment, and attending briefings for high altitude and cold weather.

Malcolm, our field doctor, gave each of us a bag of medicine. As we may experience altitude sickness at Aurora Basin, we need to report our condition every day for first 10 days. I hope we don’t need to use all these pills (see photo) and that we adapt well to the high altitude environment!

We are also helping other people with their projects, as well as shovelling snow, setting up instruments, or doing housekeeping work such as slushy duty in the kitchen. Everybody on station is kind and thoughtful, helping each other out.

In our spare time we went for a short walk to the wharf and Reeves Hill. I was expecting to see lots of penguins during this walk, but had no luck. We did see a few penguins far, far away, but they looked like a few black beans in the snow.

My first penguin close-up was on Saturday night. After dinner, when we were relaxing in the living area with a glass of wine, somebody said “look out the window; there’s a penguin over there!” I ran back to my room, grabbed my jacket and raced outside. Sure enough, there was a penguin wondering around near the heavy vehicles. It checked out the station for a while, and then disappeared.

On Sunday, with wonderful weather, our field training officer, James, took us to Shirley Island. We walked on sea ice. Several little cracks on the sea ice reminded me of the possibility of the danger. What if? But the fear didn’t last long with the amazing view of ice, snow, blue sky, penguins and seals.

We are taught to respect wildlife distances, but penguins are so curious that they just walk right up to us. One penguin came so close it was walking in our tracks. It walked a few steps in front of me, then looked back at me, then walked a few more steps and looked back at me again. It was like the penguin was leading me somewhere. When we got to a junction the penguin went left and I went right. It stopped for a while and looked at me, as if asking “why are you not following me?” But it soon lost interest and slid away.

We also saw a few Weddell seals. They seldom move; they just lie on the ice. Sometimes they scratch their belly and roll over to change their sleeping position.

We took a rest on top of the island, and took a photo of everybody. Again, a few penguins came to check on us. They are really curious animals!

Mana Inoue is a PhD student at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperate Research Centre and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania. She is working as a field assistant at Aurora Basin, cutting, scraping and analysing ice cores.