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November 22nd, 2013

Turtle Rock

by Mary Tilton


Tilton Head Shot

On the schedule for today was our much anticipated trip to Turtle Rock for some diving. Turtle Rock was discovered by the British National Antarctic Expedition between 1901 and 1904 under Robert Falcon Scott and its appellation was given because of its low, rounded appearance.

This trip was thrilling for us for many reasons: 1) for the last two days, our divers have had to dive in some of the most polluted places around McMurdo, and Turtle Rock is a very clean site to dive; 2) the divers got to have a quick dive to retrieve samples, and if because they were successful, they had another dive for fun; and 3) we all get to leave base for a little while and visit a Weddell seal colony up close.

We started out with our dive team toward Turtle Rock in two Pisten Bullys at around 8:30 a.m. and settled in for the long drive after checking out with MacOps (McMurdo Operations). Turtle Rock is about 15 miles away, but Pisten Bullys have a top speed of about 11 miles per hour, so we arrived a little over an hour later. We unloaded all of our equipment in the dive hut and less than a half hour later our divers were suited up and ready to dive.

If you want to see what it is like to dive at Turtle Rock, there is a cool video showing Steve Rupp diving there a few years ago.

Arriving at Castle Rock
Driving to Turtle Rock

Loading cores into water
Lowering cores into the water

Getting ready to dive
Martin, Rob, Steve, and Terry ready to dive

While the divers were under water, I had a little time to go outside and take some photos of the Weddell seals that were lying on the ice only about 20 yards from the dive hut. A few of the females had pups that were nursing the entire time we were there, and the whole group was intermittently grunting, chirping, and trilling. The sounds they were making remind me of the sounds you hear from alien spacecraft on a sci-fi film. Astounding!

mother and baby Weddel Seal
A mother and baby seal (pup)

After the divers resurfaced with core samples and nets full of critters they all took a break and ate lunch while Andrew and Steve prepared the jars for marine samples. The whole process took about an hour, and then Rob, Steve, Martin, and Terry put all their gear back on for a fun dive and to take some photos.

Terry and Starfish
Terry holding a starfish from the first dive

Sample Jars
Some jars filled with various creatures

Terry in the underwater ice caves (Photo: Rob Robbins)

In the deep at Turtle RockTerry Palmer diving under the sea ice (Photo: Steve Rupp)

Sponges at Turtle RockA view of some sponges and feather stars (crinoids) on the seafloor (Photo: Steve Rupp)

Some starfish and a large polychaete worm (Flabelligeridae) (Photo: Steve Rupp)

Starfish at Turtle RockStarfish, a sea spider and a worm eating a jellyfish (Photo: Steve Rupp)

A Weddel Seal
A Weddell seal hanging out under the sea ice  (Photo: Steve Rupp)

Steve, Andrew, and I ate our lunches while the divers were in the water the second time, and then packed everything back into our Pisten Bully. When the divers resurfaced, they changed out of their dry suits and packed their gear back up, and then we all started back for McMurdo.

When we got back to base, we checked back in with MacOps to let them know we all returned safely. The samples were unloaded and processed before they have to be shipped back to the US, and we all got ready to celebrate the holiday weekend. Thanksgiving is celebrated early here this year, so tomorrow we get to sit down to a nice turkey dinner!