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Scott's Last Expedition

Thursday, January 5th 1911

All hands were up at 5 this morning and at work at 6. Words cannot express the splendid way in which everyone works and gradually the work gets organised. I was a little late on the scene this morning, and thereby witnessed a most extraordinary scene. Some 6 or 7 killer whales, old and young, were skirting the fast floe edge ahead of the ship; they seemed excited and dived rapidly, almost touching the floe. As we watched, they suddenly appeared astern, raising their snouts out of water. I had heard weird stories of these beasts, but had never associated serious danger with them. Close to the water’s edge lay the wire stern rope of the ship, and our two Esquimaux dogs were tethered to this. I did not think of connecting the movements of the whales with this fact, and seeing them so close I shouted to Ponting, who was standing abreast of the ship. He seized his camera and ran towards the floe edge to get a close picture of the beasts, which had momentarily disappeared. The next moment the whole floe under him and the dogs heaved up and split into fragments. One could hear the ‘booming’ noise as the whales rose under the ice and struck it with their backs. Whale after whale rose under the ice, setting it rocking fiercely; luckily Ponting kept his feet and was able to fly to security. By an extraordinary chance also, the splits had been made around and between the dogs, so that neither of them fell into the water. Then it was clear that the whales shared our astonishment, for one after another their huge hideous heads shot vertically into the air through the cracks which they had made. As they reared them to a height of 6 or 8 feet it was possible to see their tawny head markings, their small glistening eyes, and their terrible array of teeth–by far the largest and most terrifying in the world. There cannot be a doubt that they looked up to see what had happened to Ponting and the dogs.

The latter were horribly frightened and strained to their chains, whining; the head of one killer must certainly have been within 5 feet of one of the dogs.

After this, whether they thought the game insignificant, or whether they missed Ponting is uncertain, but the terrifying creatures passed on to other hunting grounds, and we were able to rescue the dogs, and what was even more important, our petrol – 5 or 6 tons of which was waiting on a piece of ice which was not split away from the main mass.

Of course, we have known well that killer whales continually skirt the edge of the floes and that they would undoubtedly snap up anyone who was unfortunate enough to fall into the water; but the facts that they could display such deliberate cunning, that they were able to break ice of such thickness (at least 2 1/2 feet), and that they could act in unison, were a revelation to us. It is clear that they are endowed with singular intelligence, and in future we shall treat that intelligence with every respect.

Notes on the Killer or Grampus (Orca gladiator)
One killed at Greenwich, 31 feet.
Teeth about 2 1/2 inches above jaw; about 3 1/2 inches total length.
‘British Quadrupeds’–Bell:
‘The fierceness and voracity of the killer, in which it surpasses all other known cetaceans.’
In stomach of a 21 ft. specimen were found remains of 13 porpoises and 14 seals.
A herd of white whales has been seen driven into a bay and literally torn to pieces.
Teeth, large, conical, and slightly recurred, 11 or 12 on each side of either jaw.
‘Mammals’ – Flower and Lydekker:
‘Distinguished from all their allies by great strength and ferocity.’
‘Combine in packs to hunt down and destroy . . . full sized whales.’
‘Marine Mammalia’ – Scammon:
Adult males average 20 feet; females 15 feet.
Strong sharp conical teeth which interlock. Combines great strength with agility.
Spout ‘low and bushy.’
Habits exhibit a boldness and cunning peculiar to their carnivorous propensities.
Three or four do not hesitate to grapple the largest baleen whales, who become paralysed with terror – frequently evince no efforts to escape.
Instances have occurred where a band of orcas laid siege to whales in tow, and although frequently lanced and cut with boat spades, made away with their prey.
Inclined to believe it rarely attacks larger cetaceans.
Possessed of great swiftness.
Sometimes seen peering above the surface with a seal in their bristling jaws, shaking and crushing their victims and swallowing them apparently with gusto.
Tear white whales into pieces.

Ponting has been ravished yesterday by a view of the ship seen from a big cave in an iceberg, and wished to get pictures of it. He succeeded in getting some splendid plates. This fore-noon I went to the iceberg with him and agreed that I had rarely seen anything more beautiful than this cave. It was really a sort of crevasse in a tilted berg parallel to the original surface; the strata on either side had bent outwards; through the back the sky could be seen through a screen of beautiful icicles–it looked a royal purple, whether by contrast with the blue of the cavern or whether from optical illusion I do not know. Through the larger entrance could be seen, also partly through icicles, the ship, the Western Mountains, and a lilac sky; a wonderfully beautiful picture.

Ponting is simply entranced with this view of Mt. Erebus, and with the two bergs in the foreground and some volunteers he works up foregrounds to complete his picture of it.

I go to bed very satisfied with the day’s work, but hoping for better results with the improved organisation and familiarity with the work.

To-day we landed the remainder of the woodwork of the hut, all the petrol, paraffin and oil of all descriptions, and a quantity of oats for the ponies besides odds and ends. The ponies are to begin work to-morrow; they did nothing to-day, but the motor sledges did well–they are steadying down to their work and made nothing but non-stop runs to-day. One begins to believe they will be reliable, but I am still fearing that they will not take such heavy loads as we hoped.

Day is very pleased and thinks he’s going to do wonders, and Nelson shares his optimism. The dogs find the day work terribly heavy and Meares is going to put them on to night work.

The framework of the hut is nearly up; the hands worked till 1 A.M. this morning and were at it again at 7 A.M. – an instance of the spirit which actuates everyone. The men teams formed of the after-guard brought in good loads, but they are not yet in condition. The hut is about 11 or 12 feet above the water as far as I can judge. I don’t think spray can get so high in such a sheltered spot even if we get a northerly gale when the sea is open.

In all other respects the situation is admirable. This work makes one very tired for Diary-writing.

Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.
“Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.”

Thursday, January_ 5

Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.
“Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.”

Taylor and Wright in ice grotto
“Taylor and Wright in ice grotto”

Taylor and Wright in ice grotto
“Taylor and Wright in ice grotto”

Another view of Grotto berg. Taylor in foreground. Jan. 5th 1911.
“Another view of Grotto berg. Taylor in foreground. Jan. 5th 1911.”

Erebus with Adleie (sic) penguins on ice in foreground and open water near the grotto berg. Jan. 5th 1911.
“Erebus with Adleie (sic) penguins on ice in foreground and open water near the grotto berg. Jan. 5th 1911.”

Erebus with Adleie (sic) penguins on ice in foreground and open water near the grotto berg. Jan. 5th 1911.
“Erebus with Adleie (sic) penguins on ice in foreground and open water near the grotto berg. Jan. 5th 1911.”

Pair of McCormicks Antarctic Skua Gulls, by nest with eggs. January 5th 1911
“Pair of McCormicks Antarctic Skua Gulls, by nest with eggs. January 5th 1911”

Pair of McCormicks Antarctic Skua Gulls, by nest with eggs. January 5th 1911
“Pair of McCormicks Antarctic Skua Gulls, by nest with eggs. January 5th 1911”

Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.
“Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.”

Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.
“Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.”

Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.
“Grotto in a berg. Terra Nova in the distance. Taylor and Wright (Interior). Jan. 5th 1911.”

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