Antarctica. The first image that comes to most people’s mind is probably not one of bones, and looking for them is not why I went. For years I had dreamed of seeing the glaciated terrestrial landscape and the iceberg-laden waters described over 100 years ago during the “Age of Heroic Exploration.” I also wanted to experience a bit, just a bit, of the weather that made the early explorations heroic.
As whalers and sealers of the 19th and early 20th centuries discovered, the waters surrounding Antarctica were and are surprisingly rich with wildlife. Near the bottom of this food pyramid are trillions of krill, which are inch-long shrimp-like critters that whales, seals, and penguins find delectable and life-sustaining. Whales and seals take huge gulps of krill-dense sea water, close their mouths part way, and expel the water while retaining the krill against their baleen filters (whales) or interdigitated teeth (seals). Penguins swallow some krill for themselves and once back on land regurgitate the rest for their demanding, ever-hungry chicks. Once the chicks are fledged, the penguins spend the rest of the year at sea.
Here are some pictures of penguin bones I found. I did not bring any of my discoveries home, because it is against international agreements for tourists to remove anything from Antarctica much less eat, drink, or go to the bathroom there. And consider this: Antarctica is the first non-smoking continent!
Once I had my bone-seeking adrenaline racing, I came across some scattered seal and whale bones and was directed to an intriguing, semi-reconstructed whale skeleton. Apparently some enterprising bone lover roughly assembled vertebrae and ribs in line with a massive and likely unmovable skull.
On the way home, I stayed overnight in Punta Arenas, Chile, at the tip of South America. My beachcombing continued. Two long strolls along the shore turned up a fascinating assortment of bones. A handful were two-inch long segments of bovine skeletons, apparently sawn to this dimension for ships’ soup pots.
My best finds were the fierce-looking jawbone of a sizable creature (dog?) and a finger or toe bone of a behemoth (sea lion?). I will let you know when a zoologist has positively identified these for me. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for bones. You may be surprised where they turn up. I was, and happy about it.
Thanks and Gratitude:
This blog is republished with permission from http://www.aboutbone.com, a weekly blog for curious people.