Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Penguins rolls

It went like this: it's breakfast time for me (1pm, ish), a bowl of milk and cereal, particularly hot, in one hand and a coffee in the other. The boat rolls (a lot) and my eyes point to one of the portholes in the galley: water, water, water.. waves.. a gray huge silhouette of… what!? It can't be a wave THAT big! I run to the porthole (carefully, not to drop my precious meal on the floor) and.. here it is!! just behind that thick fog, McDonald Island! One of the most remote places on Earth is just in front of my eyes! Useless to say that I basically swallow the whole breakfast (not a great idea.. the temperature makes it more like lava, rather than milk), run downstairs to the Operations Room, get my camera (with my 3 lenses.. you never know if you have something close, something far.. or something wide) and 5 floors up to the bridge (now.. "run": the big swell made my inglorious run more like a series of fast fast steps alternated to reaaaaally slow ones). And that's what I see..

McDonald Island, view from the bridge

It's really something unexpectedly emotional to see land after almost 20 days of a 360 degrees view of ocean and sky, sky and ocean. A very dramatic view, in this case, as with its sharp profile, its dark volcanic rocks, fumes that emerge from several points, a fog that blends everything around in a monochromatic gray tone, waves that violently brakes against its figure, thousands penguins standing at the top of the mountains (seriously.. what are they doing there?!) and elephant seals fighting on the small beach (now, here I had to trust the others, as I couldn't really see them with my eyes).. McDonald Island looks like it's coming out from a fantasy book. At any moment, I expect to see a dragon emerging from one of those rocks ;-) The island has a volcanic origin. Satellite images show that it has doubled its size (!!) between 1980 and 2001, probably due to an eruption in 1997. And it might look very inhospitable to us, but no doubt it's the perfect home for many animals.

Thousands of penguins are at the top of the mountain! (they're very little on the picture.. just trust me: I saw them with the binoculars)

There are many many more seabirds, as little as storm petrels and as huge as wandering albatrosses. Groups of penguins and fur seals jump crazily through the big waves.. we wish we could see killer whales too. Penguins are incredibly fast, which made my photographic hobby particularly challenging. 

Few seals jumping in the waters in front of McDonald Island

A group of Macaroni penguins

Awww.. this is so cute!!

Ok, last photo of penguins!

We've been spending these last 3 days around the island, as the weather is pretty bad and we cannot safely stop to take any measurements. So, we've been mapping the seafloor around, looking for bubbles from the ocean floor to track any potential hydrothermal vents (not an easy task, I must say). We've been playing tennis table, watching movies (Captain Phillip was my favorite), eating an enormous quantity of cake, cookies, ice-cream, pudding. While the ocean on the shallow plateau continued to rage.

2 days ago, I was watching a movie with a group of us. All of a sudden, the roll of the ship became stronger and stronger: I made a fortress with a couple of couches, so I didn't really move much from my position. But it wasn't so still for the rest of them: people started sliding on the floor, with or without a couch or a chair. Sliding back and forth. At the beginning, it was pretty funny, I admit. Some were laughing by the incapability of being able to stand up for more than few seconds. 1, 2, 3 rolls and then.. BOOM! Everything went flying against the other side of the room: couches, chairs, tennis table, people! Fortunately nobody in the room got injured.
Plot of the roll of the ship: indicated in red is the vicious one.

The galley was a mess (pun intended ;-P ): we had pudding and raspberry jelly as dessert for dinner.. it was everywhere! Sadly one of us slipped on the floor and twisted her knee, but fortunately she's already recovering and nothing major happened. From the bridge, Pete, our video/photographer took an amazing picture of the roll (which you can see below)… before he went flying across the bridge, to then violently land with his nose on the desk :-( Fortunately again, no broken bones or nose, just a bad bruise. But we all got a very important lesson here: "one hand for the ship.. and with this weather, better keep two!".

Pete's shot during the roll, before he flew towards the desk (credit: Pete Harmsen, CSIRO/MNF)

One last thing: Happy Australia Day to all my Aussie friends! We had a lot of fun celebrating it here: BBQ, pavlova, flags everywhere, the Triple J 100 best songs. Love it!! :)

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