My name is Helen Jones and I’m a doctor employed by the British Antarctic Survey. For the next nine months I’ll be working on board the James Clark Ross as she performs scientific research in the Southern Ocean and supplies the British research bases of Antarctica.
I’ve started this blog in the hopes of entertaining and giving people a chance to see some pretty pictures. I might even throw some science in occasionally!
Wednesday, 4 January 2017
Hello Possums! Welcome to 2017. I hope you all had a stellar
festive period. My services as a doctor have been marginally more in demand
than my skills as a seamstress recently which is refreshingly different.
Nothing scary I hasten to add; it just means that the other seat in my surgery
has been put to a slightly different use than being the receptacle of my
And this has shaken me out of the post-Christmas sloth! I
was sinking into a certain level of torpor; failing to do any exercise and eating
many, many biscuits. Things had reached the point where I was starting to blame
the snugness of my jeans on an over-powerful tumble drier setting. Denial is
great! But having to move out of my comfy doctor chair (it doesn’t swivel. It
really should swivel) has done me a huge amount of good and I’ve actually hit
the gym twice this week.
Very wisely, however, I’ve decided not to burden myself with
too many changes at once so I’m still eating quite a lot of rubbish. I became
very upset today when I realised that one measly day after the new chocolate
bar selection had been put out in the bar, some horrible little individual had
bought all the Bourneville chocolate at once! Hoarding it in fact! I was very
close to losing all sense of perspective. How on earth am I supposed to cope
when I’ve run out of my own supplies? But then I attempted to recover said
perspective and thought about the fact that I have formed the resolution of
becoming a new and better Helen this year. A Helen 2.0 in fact. Rock hard abs are
an integral part of this beautiful inner vision; on a slightly lower level of
priority I might think about trying to read more medical papers. But obviously
the abs are the most salient point and so someone buying up all the Bourneville
probably isn’t that terrible...
I think part of my inertia recently has been down to a slightly
glum mood that has settled over the ship. This cruise has been tough
psychologically for everyone. Bad weather and the thickness of the ice around
Rothera have meant that the end of the cruise has been put back a number of
times. Understandably people are very keen to get home to their families and
friends; the delays are frustrating for everyone. The fact that this particular
science cruise has no fixed destination is also quite difficult to deal with. I
think it’s easier to cope with the idea of a cruise that is going somewhere; if
the ship is constantly tacking backwards and forwards over the same patch of
ocean then there is nothing to look forward to (however valuable the scientific
data acquired is).My dad was looking at
the ship’s tracker and asked me if the captain had dropped something as we just
seem to meander back and forth!
We should have something to look forward to soon though. The
science should shortly come to an end and then we can start to make for
Rothera. By now the onset of summer should mean that the ice has started to
break up and the relief of Rothera can begin at last. I’m very excited by the
thought of seeing my Rothera buddy; I’m told that I have a painting in return
for the quilt that I made her! And I’ve got my fingers very tightly crossed for
some cross country skiing. I also have an excellent quiz planned for the day
after the science finishes which will mean that everyone can at least focus on
trying to lynch me for asking such ridiculous questions instead!
It hasn’t all been doom and gloom though. Two days ago we
were lucky enough to be visited by a pod of Humpback whales. We were sat on
station and the whales obviously wanted to take a closer look at us. I was
standing on the Monkey Island with the idea of getting an excellent view from
above but one of our scientists clearly had a better idea than that! She was up
on the bow just as one of the whales surfaced and exhaled. The poor women was
enveloped in fishy breath and I could hear her shrieks from up on high. I may
have sniggered a little bit. The whales circled us for fifteen minutes or so
before deciding to head off into the ocean, one of them lazily flipping a fin
in what seemed like a farewell salute to us.
Photo taken by Alexander Burton-Johnson
Photo taken by Jeremy Robst
Photo taken by Jeremy Robst
The friendliness of our humpbacks is probably not that
unusual. Humpbacks have been known to interact playfully with bottlenose
dolphins and they’ve apparently been seen in mixed-species groups that involved
minke, fin and sperm whales. Wikipedia also tells me that humpback whales have
been known to defend other species from the predations of killer whales.
They’re clearly intelligent hunters using something termed as the “bubblenet”
method of hunting. A group of cooperating whales swim beneath a school of fish
and blow bubbles in ever tightening circles around them. The fish are unable to
escape from the whales because of the bubbles and eventually one of the whales
will pop up through the centre of the bubbles and take a big mouthful of all
In the context of their obvious intelligence, curiosity and
social behaviours, it’s heartbreaking to note that they were hunted to the
verge of extinction by whalers. Estimates suggest that the global population of
Humpbacks dropped by as much as 90% during the height of the whaling years.
Their stocks are now recovering and in some areas their numbers approach their
estimated levels before the days of whaling.
Other than looking at sea mammals and doing a bit of
doctoring, I’ve spent a lot of my time crafting. I felt that I needed a wee
break from sewing after doing the quilt, the fishing net and the strange red
canvas sock that lives on the monkey deck so I’ve been knitting instead. I
rashly agreed to knit my other half a jumper before I left the UK. I’ve
resisted making him anything for a long time because...I’m a deeply selfish
knitter. When people ask me to make them something my usual response is “No,
but I’ll teach you how to knit.” Strangely most people’s enthusiasm for the
item seems to wane at this point! (Although I have also become a strange sort
of knitting Johnny Appleseed, spreading knitting clubs wherever I go.) But I felt
that as I was disappearing for nine months, my good girlfriend points might
need resuscitating so he’s getting a very snazzy cardigan. The lucky son of a
Anyhow, that’s enough babbling from me. I shall leave you
with the advice that if you wish to look at some very pretty pictures of
Antarctica you should go to www.richardturnerphotographs.co.uk.
Rich is the purser on board and apparently something of a dab hand with the old