Ice Fishing in Antarctica

I signed up to be a Hut Guide. I listened to a seminar presented by the National Science Foundation on rules and regulations of historic huts; all of the ‘don’t do this’ and ‘you can’t do that’, then got to go inside Discovery Hut. It was erected in 1902 by Robert Scott during the Discovery Expedition. It was known for being drafty and poorly insulated then, and not much has changed. It’s unbearably cold inside, it’s almost impossible to linger for more than twenty minutes. Despite this, it’s an honor to get to step inside the hut, where so many of the great polar explorers have been – like so many others who know Shackleton’s story, he’s rather iconic for me. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party Expedition, I’d highly recommend checking into it. It’s truly an amazing adventure.

I was given the opportunity to do go on a “boondoggle”. It’s a morale trip to get out of McMurdo and do something different. I was asked to assist on a fishing trip. Which ended up being even better – because I actually got to ice fish!

We drove a Pisten Bully (these are the kind of tracked vehicles you may see on the slopes of your favorite ski resort) out to Cape Evans Wall, the wall being a glacier. It was so beautiful, it was hard to absorb. The ice practically glows blue and makes popping noises due to the immense pressure. It literally is  a wall of blue, glassy ice. Amazing.

We caught 38 fish (Trematomus bernacchii) in about an hour. Poor little dudes didn’t really know what hit them, I think. It was likely the first time they’d ever seen a lure and had no reason to be leary of it. It felt like cheating. The research group is hoping to determine the effects of warming water on the fish. Pretty much all of them of them will be returned back to the ocean, unharmed. I think they should study the effect of yanking them abruptly out of the water with a fishing line. That would make for interesting science.

In order to access the fish, we had to drill holes into the ice (which will disappear come summer). This was no easy task, with the ice averaging 87″ in thickness. The Jiffy drill has an auger on it with a diameter of 10 inches, requiring two people at a time to push the drill down into the ice, using all of their body weight. It took about twenty minutes per hole, with a total of three drilled. Once we penetrated through the ice, the frigid water (about -1.86 C °) came rushing out of the hole, being pulled up with the drill, soaking us up to our knees.

Here’s a shot of McMurdo, nestled on the islands peninsula.

Dan (researcher from Portland) driving the Pisten Bully.

Cape Evan’s Wall.

Jellyfish in one of the dive holes inside a Dive Hut.

Trematomus bernacchi.

Weddell seal.

Pisten Bully in front of Mt. Erebus.

Inside the Pisten Bully.

Emperor Penguins!

It’s these types of days that really make this whole thing worthwhile; having the privilege to participate in something that you couldn’t pay a millions dollars to do here. Chew on that, rich people.