7 December, 2003
Today we completed our 8th, and final, census for the season. Today's count was approximately 800 seals, fewer than any of the last few censuses. During this census there were far fewer mother/pup pairs lounging about together on the ice. A majority of the pups have been weaned and are on their own as their mothers return to the ocean. Pup mortality is high for the first years of their life as they learn how to survive on their own. It will be interesting to see when and how many of those pups reappear in the study area over the next few years.
In the evening we visited Cape Royds, site of both an Adelie Penguin colony and a hut that was built by Ernest Shackleton and his crew of the Nimrod on their 1907 expedition. It had been almost a month since our last trip to Cape Royds, and things have changed out there. The area where we parked our snowmobiles last month is now open water. The ice edge moved about 2km closer during last week's storm, leaving much of Cape Royds with true 'beachfront property'.
Shackleton's 1907 expedition on the Nimrod was his second trip to Antarctica. He had been a part of Scott's Discovery Expedition of 1902 and this time returned leading his own group of men. He had promised Scott that he wouldn't land in McMurdo Sound, but was forced to break that promise when he encountered thick ice that blocked any other alternative harbors. They landed at Cape Royds in late January, and sent their ship back to New Zealand on February 22nd with instructions to return before March of 1908. The men built their hut and settled in for the winter.
On October 29th they left the relative comfort of their hut and set off for the South Pole, using a combination of ponies, dogs, and men to haul the heavy sleds. The ponies were unsuited to Antarctic travel and succumbed early on in the expedition. In early January the men reached 880 23' S, 97 miles from the South Pole, before dwindling supplies forced them to turn around. This was 360 miles further south than Scott had gotten in his Discovery expedition.
When they left, Shackleton had instructed the men left at Cape Royds to sail on March 1st (the Nimrod was scheduled to return for them in late February). He felt that, if they had not returned by that date, the rest of the group should assume that they had died in their attempt. The men, sick with dysentery and suffering from a lack of adequate food and water, made it to Hut Point just as a small group of men set forth to look for their bodies prior to leaving on the Nimrod.
Although they did not reach the geographic South Pole, a group of three men from the expedition made it to the magnetic South Pole. They were the first to reach that point. In addition, members of the party climbed Mt. Erebus, marking the first ascent of a peak in Antarctica. The trip to the top took five days, while their return trip took only 1 1/2.
The hut, like Scott's at Cape Evans, has been restored with much of the original furnishings and supplies. The sleeping bags are on some of the bunks, while food and kitchen supplies line the shelves. Visiting the hut can give only a small glimpse into what life on the ice was like almost 100years ago.
Setting off for the South Pole
Furthest south of all
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