A White Desert, Full of Life


At first glance, it does not seem like anything could survive on its own atop the frozen-over Weddell Sea for very long. It is summer here, and on the sunniest, most pleasant days, the temperature hovers around 20 degrees Fahrenheit and there is nothing to block the winds that make it feel much colder on your skin. Imagine the wintertime, when there is 24-hour darkness, temperatures plunge and there is no open water anywhere. Simply put, it’s a very hard place to live. On the other hand, for any creature that can handle the elements, the water is crystal clear and full of food, and there are no humans around to disrupt them. Under these conditions, life is thriving in the Weddell Sea. Let’s meet the neighbors!

What does this creature or plant look like?:

I have to start with the penguins--they are absolutely everywhere! We travel past small and large clusters of Adelie and Emperor penguins every time we reposition the ship, and as soon as we stop, the penguins often waddle, slide on their bellies or swim closer to the ship to investigate. Adelie penguins are short and fat, with mostly white bodies and black heads. They do not have much of a neck, so they appear to me like little blobs of scruffy cuteness. Emperor penguins live up to their name. They are taller and more majestic, with black wings, a better-defined neck and beautiful splashes of yellow towards the back of their heads.