Noon, 69º 17′ S., 179º 42′ W. Made good since 26th S. 74 W. 31′; C. Crozier S. 22 W. 530′. The gale has abated. The sky began to clear in the middle watch; now we have bright, cheerful, warm sunshine (temp. 28º). The wind lulled in the middle watch and has fallen to force 2 to 3. We made 1 1/2 miles in the middle and have added nearly a mile since. This movement has brought us amongst floes of decidedly smaller area and the pack has loosened considerably. A visit to the crow’s nest shows great improvement in the conditions. There is ice on all sides, but a large percentage of the floes is quite thin and even the heavier ice appears breakable. It is only possible to be certain of conditions for three miles or so–the limit of observation from the crow’s nest; but as far as this limit there is no doubt the ship could work through with ease. Beyond there are vague signs of open water in the southern sky. We have pushed and drifted south and west during the gale and are now near the 180th meridian again. It seems impossible that we can be far from the southern limit of the pack.
On strength of these observations we have decided to raise steam. I trust this effort will carry us through.
The pony which fell last night has now been brought out into the open. The poor beast is in a miserable condition, very thin, very weak on the hind legs, and suffering from a most irritating skin affection which is causing its hair to fall out in great quantities. I think a day or so in the open will help matters; one or two of the other ponies under the forecastle are also in poor condition, but none so bad as this one. Oates is unremitting in his attention and care of the animals, but I don’t think he quite realises that whilst in the pack the ship must remain steady and that, therefore, a certain limited scope for movement and exercise is afforded by the open deck on which the sick animal now stands.
If we can get through the ice in the coming effort we may get all the ponies through safely, but there would be no great cause for surprise if we lost two or three more.
These animals are now the great consideration, balanced as they are against the coal expenditure.
This morning a number of penguins were diving for food around and under the ship. It is the first time they have come so close to the ship in the pack, and there can be little doubt that the absence of motion of the propeller has made them bold.
The Adèlie penguin on land or ice is almost wholly ludicrous. Whether sleeping, quarrelling, or playing, whether curious, frightened, or angry, its interest is continuously humorous, but the Adèlie penguin in the water is another thing; as it darts to and fro a fathom or two below the surface, as it leaps porpoise-like into the air or swims skimmingly over the rippling surface of a pool, it excites nothing but admiration. Its speed probably appears greater than it is, but the ability to twist and turn and the general control of movement is both beautiful and wonderful.
As one looks across the barren stretches of the pack, it is sometimes difficult to realise what teeming life exists immediately beneath its surface.
A tow-net is filled with diatoms in a very short space of time, showing that the floating plant life is many times richer than that of temperate or tropic seas. These diatoms mostly consist of three or four well-known species. Feeding on these diatoms are countless thousands of small shrimps (Euphausia); they can be seen swimming at the edge of every floe and washing about on the overturned pieces. In turn they afford food for creatures great and small: the crab-eater or white seal, the penguins, the Antarctic and snowy petrel, and an unknown number of fish.
These fish must be plentiful, as shown by our capture of one on an overturned floe and the report of several seen two days ago by some men leaning over the counter of the ship. These all exclaimed together, and on inquiry all agreed that they had seen half a dozen or more a foot or so in length swimming away under a floe. Seals and penguins capture these fish, as also, doubtless, the skuas and the petrels.
Coming to the larger mammals, one occasionally sees the long lithe sea leopard, formidably armed with ferocious teeth and doubtless containing a penguin or two and perhaps a young crab-eating seal. The killer whale (Orca gladiator), unappeasably voracious, devouring or attempting to devour every smaller animal, is less common in the pack but numerous on the coasts. Finally, we have the great browsing whales of various species, from the vast blue whale (Balênoptera Sibbaldi), the largest mammal of all time, to the smaller and less common bottle-nose and such species as have not yet been named. Great numbers of these huge animals are seen, and one realises what a demand they must make on their food supply and therefore how immense a supply of small sea beasts these seas must contain. Beneath the placid ice floes and under the calm water pools the old universal warfare is raging incessantly in the struggle for existence.
Both morning and afternoon we have had brilliant sunshine, and this afternoon all the after-guard lay about on the deck sunning themselves. A happy, care-free group.