Life on the Ship
ABOARD THE USCGC POLAR SEA, ON THE BEAUFORT SEA– I discovered a novel way to become seasick. For two days last week we anchored about 20 miles north of the Alaska coast, near Prudhoe Bay. The capture helicopters were used to pickup supplies from Deadhorse, including fresh lettuce (after a couple weeks at sea, this was exciting), mail, and several new personnel. One is a representative from native communities of hunters and trappers on the north slope, who has joined us to observe our operations. After spending two days on the onload we had two days of transit to our next target bear, and recent poor weather has meant that we had many down days in a row. This finally got me into the gym onboard the ship.
The gym is below the foc’sle, meaning it is below the main deck very near the bow. The floor in the gym slopes upward; I tried the treadmill for the first time, and decided to do a “hills” run. So, the already-leaning treadmill slowly tilted more then less, repeatedly, every one to two minutes, while I ran in place for 25 minutes. We were breaking moderate ice (probably around a foot thick) so the ship was rocking unpredictably as well, particularly when we encountered pieces of thick multi-year ice (many feet thick). By the time I stepped off the treadmill and tried to walk across the gym I was tilting pretty far myself. I walked slowly, from equipment to equipment, bracing myself as I went.
I have participated in other aspects of normal life aboard the ship as well. Last week I caught one of the movies shown nightly in the theatre: about 35 well-padded seats that rocked, as in a real theatre, facing a big-screen television. I got a haircut at the barbershop – there is even a striped pole in the hallway. “Pie in the face” voting took place across the ship for a week, and personnel who received the top 5 votes each took a turn sitting in a chair, surrounded by the crew, one night in the hangar. A vigorous auction took place for the right to be the person to actually sling the pie (gently; no broken noses were allowed). Last night I played bingo in the mess deck after dinner. Around 30 folks show up, once a week, and everyone plays three cards at once.
For most of my downtime I am trying to keep up with the course I am taking this fall (Biochemistry), reading research articles and preparing for an upcoming conference, and otherwise doing what I would be doing at my desk back in Laramie. Unfortunately space is fairly tight on the ship and desks are hard to come by so I do most of this work sitting on my bunk, which is just about 2 inches too small to allow me to sit all the way up.
Recently, after the two days of transit the ship was hove to in very thick ice near Banks Island, which is in the southwestern corner of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
For captures, we need calm winds, good visibility, thick continuous ice, and a good bear location. Those factors came together to allow us to recapture an adult female we first sampled on May 8th. She was in excellent condition, carrying lots of food reserves in the form of body fat: she had about 6 cm of subcutaneous fat near her rump. All of the sampling went well, but it was slow, partially because of the cold. Temperatures were around 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) during the sampling, which took several hours. It was our first fairly cold day, and a good reminder of the difficulties we may encounter if it gets much colder. Temperatures have continued to drop; as I write, it is 8 degrees with a windchill of -11 degrees.