Hi there! My name is Damien Waits and I’m a research technician in the Halanych Lab at Auburn University. I was lucky enough to be on the last Antarctic cruise that the Halanych lab embarked upon in 2013, and now I have returned to sample the Southern Ocean again. I’d like to tell you that I’m here to discuss in detail all the glamorous things that my colleagues left out of past blog posts. I am sure there are many amazing topics that have slipped through the cracks while we discussed rare and vibrant animals we collected, breathtaking scenery, and charismatic megafauna we caught sight of from the bow of the ship. However, I’m here to talk to you about what happens after the animals are collected, the sights have been seen, and the ship is headed home.
Setting up the lab was a rigorous ordeal that now has to be undone! Much like how hikers behave when they roam the countryside, we now need to spend time ensuring that we “Leave No Trace”. We screwed in wood blocks to secure microscopes, tied in boxes to hold bottles for samples, and set up lines for hanging our wet clothes after being on deck. Now we need to remove the blocks and pack the microscopes up nice and neat so they’re safe for their trip back to Auburn. The boxes are mostly empty now, but any leftover bottles will remain in a warehouse in Chile, awaiting the day they will embark on another cruise. Our hangers and lines have to be brought down and all the muddy float coats and waterproof bibs need to be scrubbed and rinsed so they’ll be clean for the next group of sailors. We also have a camera stand that allows us to take pictures of animals from above that has to be broken down and put pack in its case.
In addition to scientific equipment, the samples we collected need to be taken care of as well. We will send our ethanol samples home in a large metal shipping container that is kept at 4 degrees Celsius, and our frozen samples will go in Styrofoam boxes filled with dry ice. We have very specific instructions for labelling the boxes, adding enough absorbent material, and packing them up that we must follow to ensure our samples don’t get delayed and everyone who handles them on their way back is safe from any chemicals we used to preserve the animals. Speaking of chemicals, any leftover preservatives also need to be packed up or disposed of very carefully. As you would expect, there is a ton of paperwork that needs to be done to ensure everything gets where it needs to go.
Finally, we’ll all need to collect and pack our personal belongings after three months of living on the ship. This might take the longest, because we’ve all had lots of time to settle in to living on the ship and tried to make it as homey as possible. We’ve made workstations in the electronics lab and set up our rooms just the way we like it, but soon we’ll be packing our bags in preparation for our flight home.
PS: Hello to Mrs. Plunkett’s students who I hear have been following along with us on our cruise. Watch out for a special Antarctic present in your classroom sometime soon!
Technician in the Halanych Lab