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To Everything Its Place
Journal by Margaret Amsler
Posted on 2/14/2002 at 11:00 a.m.

 Katrin Iken (right), Maggie Amsler (middle), and Chuck Amsler (left) on the deck of the RV <I>Laurence M. Gould </I> as she prepares to sail from Punta Arenas, Chile to Antarctica. Photo by Bill Baker.
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January 27 was my final full day at Palmer Station. It seemed my list of things was dauntingly endless! My final duty in the lab was cleaning up the various areas our project had occupied during our three months of Antarctic residence. This included dealing with all of the bioassay taste testers we had maintained in the Aquarium Building throughout the season. As a way of celebrating the end of our scientifically productive and rewarding season, we announced an un-fishing and de-starring party. Station personnel were invited to help us liberate our temporary captives and share in the joy of our success as well as some "Free Willy" joy.

Animal liberators Sue Cowles (left), Jeff Gustafson (middle) and Maggie Amsler (right) in the Aquarium Building at Palmer Station, Antarctica. Photo by Sue Cowles.
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I took care of our tiniest tasters — the small shrimp-like amphipods — before the festivities began. Most of the approximately 2000 "pods" had been sent back to their home weeks ago. I did have 500 left for the last few experiments that I had to do, although I was concentrating on the fish assays. We had maintained the pods in plastic jars with mesh window cutouts to allow for an exchange of seawater as the jar bobbed around in the large aquarium. I unscrewed the lid of the jar, poured the contents into a bucket, walked the bucket to the zodiac dock and poured the pods back into the wild. They darted away, disappearing amongst the rocks.

 Jeff Gustafson helps returns the specimens to their proper home. Photo by Sue Cowles.
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Palmer’s most skilled Antarctic fisherman, Jeff Gustafson, appeared in the Aquarium Building to lend a hand with the un-fishing. Jeff hooked the majority our finned taste testers with rod and reel. Today’s job was tackled with a scoop net and bucket. Sue Cowles, an adult literacy instructor funded by the NSF Teachers Experiencing the Arctic and Antarctic Program, also lent a hand. Sue highlighted this event in her journal as well. (See The fifteen fish that had been hand fed and pampered by me for over a month splashed and wriggled wet goodbyes as each was netted out of the large aquarium and transferred to a bucket for the short walk to the beckoning, lapping waters of the harbor. Several of the fish, as if celebrities, had their photos taken with station personnel. We hope our scientific findings become famed because of how the fish responded in our feeding experiments. It was surprising how the mottle-colored fish seemed to vanish immediately upon being freed at the rocky water’s edge. The fish had been described as being “dumb as rocks”. Perhaps looking like a rock is a smart way to avoid predation or capture by divers.

Maggie Amsler returning sea stars to their home — stars fell on Arthur Harbor. Photo by Sue Cowles.
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Our other aquatic stars, the sea stars, were not returned to the harbor one at a time like the fish. There were simply too many of them for such a royal treatment. Rather the stars were piled into seawater filled buckets and transferred en masse. Even with this not so delicate treatment, seven trips to the harbor were required. The mounds of stars showed purply pink in the clear harbor waters. It would be many hours before the stars tube footed their way to deeper water and perhaps some solitude after months of confinement with hundreds of their kin. Although the stars were diver collected from various sites, we hope that most settle in Arthur Harbor and raise big families. Next year our experiments will once again require the taste testing expertise of sea stars so it would be nice to have several hundred just waiting to be collected!

 Sue Cowles netting out one of the fishy taste testers from the aquarium at Palmer Station. Photo by Sue Cowles.
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With the lab animals returned to their appropriate homes, it was time for Chris and me to do the same. The next morning was calm and gray as hugs were exchanged amongst the Palmer family on the dock. Once all passengers — some eager, some not-so eager — were onboard the L.M. Gould, the gangway was removed. Then one by one the mooring lines our ties to land and Palmer were released amidst tears and cheers. Four remarkably smooth sailing days later we were in Punta Arenas, Chile. The next day I was winging north to Birmingham, back to my home. All creatures to their proper place....

On March 16, I will be at the McWane Center to present a "Scientist at the Center" talk about my Antarctic experiences. Hope to see you there....

Maggie's Journal: To Everything Its Place
Maggie's Journal: Wrapping Up at Palmer Station
Maggie's Journal: Happy Belated New Year
Jim's Journal: Antarctic Science Snowballs
Maggie's Journal: Christmas in Antarctica
Chuck's Journal: Home Alone
Student Journal: A Different Christmas

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