24 January, 1998

Hello from Antarctica! Guess what I saw today? Seals! I saw three seals within about 20 minutes as I was standing out on the front deck just watching the view. I know that at least one of them was a leopard seal, but I'm not sure about the other two. Leopard seals have longer faces than the other types around here and they are known as one of the penguin's greatest enemies (along with killer whales). There are six different types of seals that live on or near Antarctica. The fur seal is the only eared seal in the Antarctic and they live on the tip of the peninsula and on the sub-Antarctic Islands. The other five main species of seals in Antarctica are earless and insulated by blubber. They are the southern elephant seal, the Weddell, the leopard, the crabeater (which actually eats krill), and the Ross seal. The southern elephant seal is the world's largest seal and it breeds on the sub-Antarctic islands. The crabeater seal is the most abundant seal in the world and the Weddell seal is the most southerly mammal in the world. We saw Weddell seals near McMurdo Station.

One thing I'm noticing as I live here in Antarctica is that the sun is getting lower and lower in the sky each evening. Right now, we are in the Antarctic summer and we have 24 hours of daylight! As we head towards fall, the sun gets lower and lower in the sky . . . until finally we have our first sunset! For McMurdo Station, I think that sunset is scheduled for sometime around February 18 (so I will be around for it)! After that, the amount of darkness get longer and longer until the sun sets permanently for the Antarctic winter. The sun will begin rising and setting again in late August or early September. The length of daylight will continue increasing until there are 24 hours of daylight (sometime in October). There are very few people who hang around for the cold,dark winter -- but I've heard it's a great time to study the southern lights! On the globe, where is the exact location that determines whether a parcticular place will have days of total daylight or total darkness? Which two locations have the most days of total daylight and total darkness?

You probably realized that the seasons here in Antarctica are "opposite" the seasons in the northern hemisphere. Many people think that seasons are caused by our closeness to the Sun ... but they are WRONG! I think it's fun to know that our Earth is actually closer to the Sun in January than it is in June! Actually, our seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth on its axis. When the northern hemisphere of the Earth is tilted towards the Sun, the northern hemisphere gets more direct sunlight and they have summer. If you lived in northern Alaska, you would have 24 hours of daylight. If you were at McMurdo Station, you would have 24 hours of darkness! As the Earth goes around the Sun, it's tilt stays the same. As a result, in six months the southern hemisphere will be tilted toward the Sun and the northern hemisphere will be tilted away. That means summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the northern hemisphere.

As for yesterday's first question: What is a seamount? A seamount is an underwater volcano. If they get large enough, they can even become islands! You can see two of them in picture of the contour map that I made.

Yesterday's other question asked why we don't eat the fish from the Ross Sea for dinner. All living species in and around Antarctica are protected. In 1961, 12 countries (including the United States) signed the Antarctic Treaty. Today there are 43 member nations that have signed this treaty and agreed to work together to protect the unique environment that exists below 60 degrees South Latitude. Another treaty was passed in 1964 that specifically protects all animal and plant species in Antarctica. Even people doing scientific research have to have special permits to collect or kill any Antactic wildlife (except in an emergency as food). In 1980, yet another treaty was passed that set catch limits and defined fishing seasons and fishing methods for those parts of the Southern Ocean that aren't protected by the Antarctic Treaty (parts near the Antarctic Peninsula). So, the fish in the Ross Sea are protected . . . and we don't catch them for dinner!

Well, that's enough for today. I'll see you again tomorrow!

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