Edge of the Arctic Shelf
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This bear demonstrates exactly how cuddly a voracious predator can look.
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Daily Update

Dispatch 06 - September 15, 2003
By C. A. Linder

Weather conditions: Overcast skies, 5 kt winds, calm seas, air temperature 32°F

Catch of the Day
Today started with a bang. Literally. A series of dull thuds and resonating booms echoed through my stateroom. I rose and peeked out my porthole into the gray pre-dawn light. A sea of ice chunks stretched to the horizon.

After a hurried breakfast I grabbed my camera and headed to the fantail to capture the stately procession of silent bergs as we pushed them aside. In the distance I noticed a slightly yellowish spot on one of the pristine white bergs. As I looked closer, I noticed that the spot was moving - polar bear! By the time I raised my camera, the bear had faded into the mist behind the ship. After the initial impact this morning, the ice thinned out. By the time we arrived at our first science station, only small bits of melting ice remained.

Blue ice
Blue ice surrounds the ship.
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Our primary mission today was to retrieve a University of Washington mooring. Jim Johnson got a bit of a shock, though, when he activated the releases to his mooring and... nothing. No mooring. We all searched the horizon for the telltale yellow and red mooring floats, to no avail. The only option left for retrieving the mooring was to drag for it. Essentially, this involves putting a weighted line in the water and driving a circle around the stuck mooring, hoping to snag it and drag it to the surface. In this case we suspected that the releases were probably just barely stuck shut, and a gentle tug would drop the anchor. The only difficulty remaining was to dig out the dragging gear, which was deep in the cargo hold. The mooring technicians and Healy deck crew immediately set to the task.

While the mooring technicians were scrambling to assemble the dragging gear, the Captain held the ship in position in a thick pack of broken ice. Within moments, the intercom blared "polar bear off the port bow!" We raced to the bow in time to see a polar bear diving off an ice floe into the water. Looking closer, we noticed yet another polar bear swimming nearby - a mother and cub! For several hours I watched the bears as they warily circled the ship. Like ghosts, they would disappear suddenly then appear in another location. Several of the floes were stained red with blood, and on one floe we saw the body of a young walrus that the bears had just killed. It was an incredible sight, and gave me a new appreciation for the bears' power and strength. When the equipment was assembled on deck we steamed out of the ice, leaving the bears to their icy islands.

Boatswain's mate Pat Morkis (left), John Kemp (center), and Ryan Schrawder (right) prepare to send out the dragging line.
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After dinner the dragging operation commenced. Mooring veteran John Kemp supervised the tricky operation. Everyone worked together to deploy the long cable weighted down with anchors and weights. A crowd gathered in the aft conning station to watch for the mooring as the ship slowly turned a circle around the mooring's position. You could have heard a pin drop. The minutes stretched into an hour - we all anxiously watched the water for signs of the mooring. Then, suddenly, it was there. Yellow and red buoys happily floating on the surface. The aft conning room erupted into cheers. With the great teamwork of the science party and ship's crew, the mooring was safely retrieved. It was the catch of the day.

I have received some great questions from Mrs. Werner's 6th grade class at the Morse Pond School in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Question from Hannah: What animals of sea life how you seen so far?
Answer: So far we have seen jellyfish, gray whales, polar bears, walrus, and a variety of seabirds. We are hoping to see more polar bears and walrus as we make our way north further into the ice.

Question from Elijah: How far is it from Massachusetts to where you are?
Answer: We are currently over 4,000 miles from Massachusetts. That's a long way from home for our Woods Hole science party members!

Question from Kallie: What is the average temperature this time of year where you are?
Answer: So far the temperature has been fairly constant - right around freezing, 32°F. We have had snow flurries almost every day since the cruise began. As the cruise progresses into October, we expect the temperature to drop into the teens (or lower).

Keep those questions coming!

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