SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
45° 52.846’ S, 170° 30.434’ E
alongside at Birch Street Wharf in Dunedin
12°C, light rain
With only six days left in the program (it’s amazing how time has flown!) I’ve found myself wishing that we could be at sea instead of at our port stop in Dunedin. However, today was my favorite port stop so far! Today was penguin day!
After the usual rounds of breakfast and dawn clean up (credit to Jill for taking on breakfast dishes as well as her share of dc) all the students, Mary, Chuck, Richard, and Sarianna headed off the ship to meet our bus at 0900. We headed away from the city down the Otago Peninsula toward our first destination: “Penguin Place.” Penguin Place is a reserve and hospital for Yellow-Eyed Penguins, of which there are currently only 5000 left in the world. As we drove down the peninsula we watched the morning fog clear over the harbor water on one side and rolling, treeless hills reminiscent of Dunedin’s Scottish influence rise on the other. At the reserve we split into two groups; one group headed to the hospital and the other toward the beach. A small, covered hut acted as the “hospital.” It held penguins in rehabilitation after attacks from barracudas as well as young penguins injured while learning to leave the nest. We got our closest look at the penguins in the hospital where a dozen or so waddled around a couple feet from where we stood. To view the healthy penguins out in the reserve we hiked along a path surrounded by native trees and bushes, which were planted by the Penguin Place management throughout the last two decades in an attempt to restore certain native species to the dominating European pastoral landscape. We caught glimpses of penguins lying in the bushes as we worked our way down toward the beach where we saw views of spectacular cliffs.
As a penguin enthusiast seeing the penguins had already made my day, but we headed on to see more wildlife and increasingly incredible views. In the late morning we arrived at an Albatross center adjacent to a small public beach. On the ship we frequently record Albatross flying nearby during the lab’s hourly observations of local fauna, so the perk of visiting the center was eating lunch by a beach with New Zealand Fur Seals swimming along the rocks. Maravilla and David even braved the somewhat chilly, but sunny, weather and used the time to go for a swim.
On the way to our final stop of the day, the University of Otago Marine Science Center, our bus driver took a turn up a winding dirt road and passed field after field of sheep before coming to a halt before a path leading into a gathering of trees. Richard, our most recent Kiwi scientist aboard the Seamans, announced that we had 20 minutes to reach an amazing observation point called Lovers’ Leap. If we wanted to get there and back in time, he said, we’d have to run. At this point in the afternoon the sky was quickly turning from overcast to rain but all of a sudden everyone was off the bus running through a very Lord of the Rings-like smattering of trees and through rocky fields to get the coast. Approximately 1km later we reached the lookout, and saw what was undeniably the best view of the day. I’m sorry, readers, words truly can’t describe it.
We concluded the day with a tour of the Portobello Laboratory at the University of Otago Marine Science Center and a happy reunion with Adelle and Kendall, two of our previous ship visitors and staff at the center. Many of us got a thrill out of the marine touch tank and watching Adelle play with two small octopuses!
In recognition of our final week of the sea component I’d like to throw in a sentimental musing about class S-257. I came across a passage from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick that caught my attention; bear with me, I promise there’s a point. The passage reads,
“So long as man’s eyes are open in the light, the act of seeing is involuntary; that is, he cannot then help mechanically seeing whatever objects are before him. Nevertheless, any one’s experience will teach him, that though he can take in an undiscriminating sweep of things at one glance, it is quite impossible for him, attentively, and completely, to examine any two things—however large or however small—at one and the same instant of time; never mind if they lie side by side and touch each other.”
Over the course of the trip I’ve experienced what Melville writes of and for better and for worse I have gotten entirely wrapped up in a task set before me. On the water there is so much to take in around us all the time, but the steepness of the learning curve aboard the ship lends itself to really focusing on how to get things done. However, I believe S-257 has proved Melville wrong. Standing lookout at the bow during mid-watch (the 2300-0300 watch) one night on the transit to Dunedin I was really feeling the cold of the sub-polar water we were sailing toward and feeling pretty sorry for myself as well. Then out of the blue Kyle popped up on the rail next to me and asked if I’d seen the huge jellies floating by the port side of the ship. I spent the rest of the hour in awe of the jellies, some of which had a diameter of at least a foot and glowed blue against the dark water.
Another night during mid-watch (there seems to be a trend here...) Liz and I were in the wet lab going through the organisms caught in that night’s Neuston tow. She was holding up a test tube while I tried to stuff tiny fish called Myctophids into the tube to get their biomass. The boat was rolling us from side to side and my head lamp kept sliding onto my face and the fish were doing anything but sliding nicely down the tube. I looked up at Liz and she just started laughing. And I couldn’t help but put aside my frustration and laugh as well and think about the relative absurdity of the situation. Over the past five weeks on the Seamans my fellow crewmates have helped me put this whole experience into perspective, through its highs and lows. Melville didn’t consider that people can have as great friends as we’ve all become this semester, friends who keep it real and stop each other from getting stuck inside their own heads. And these experiences are not confined to A Watch; this entire floating community has each other’s backs and it’s been incredible to witness.
Much love to the family, Zeusy, Milb 32, and all my buds at home + abroad!
I miss you all!