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Observation Tube at the Penguin Ranch

PENGUIN RANCH, MCMURDO SOUND, ANTARCTICA– (By Ron Hipschman) At the Penguin Ranch, the scientists not only observe the penguins above the ice, but also below the ice. They do this with the “observation tube”. Anchored above a hole in the sea ice is a tube about 20 feet long and about 3 feet across. Rungs are welded to one side of the tube to let you climb down to the observation room which is a 360 degree glass-enclosed portion of the tube with a box to sit on. Once you are down in the observation room, someone closes the lid above to cut out the light from above, enhancing the observing experience. If you’re not claustrophobic, it’s actually a very relaxing place to sit and observe the ocean around you with the ice above. You should not be acrophobic (fear heights) either because you can look down into the inky depths below knowing it’s a 1500 foot dive to the ocean floor.

Here is the top of the observation tube with the light-blocking lid.

Looking down into the tube, you can see the iron rungs.

Sitting and observing in the observation tube (self-portrait given that there is not room for two people.) Note that the last 4 feet or so is on a rope ladder.

A somewhat fuzzy photo of a penguin swimming. It’s pretty dark down there and exposures have to be long.
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6 Responses »

  1. Ron as much as I hate the cold, I am really jealous of the penguin viewing.

  2. Totally cool. It must feel like you are dangling over open water. Looking at how you are dressed it must be a bit chilly. Do the Penguins ignore you or do they show curiosity?

  3. Kim,

    The penguins completely ignore the tube. I would really have loved it had they come over to play (making the photography MUCH less challenging) but it was not to be.


  4. What just you and Happy Feet, is this the most amazing trip. Myrna

  5. I remember back in 1968 during one of the many efforts to clean up McMurdo it was suggested the observation chamber would no longer be used and it should go to the dump. I was the Field Center Manager that summer and deceided that someone might want to use it in the future and put it into storage.
    Looks like I made a good call.

  6. Dave–it was a very good call. I know the researchers depend on it for observations, but we also appreciated the viewpoint it gave Ron and the photo ops of the penguins.
    Mary Miller