Antarctica

SKUA

Skua is a funny word. It’s the name of a bird that migrates to Antarctica in the winter. There’s also an Arctic skua but from pictures it looks smaller than its southern cousin.

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Skuas basically look like oversized, brown seagulls. This doesn’t sound very exciting, I know. But when the only other animals you have seen in the past two months are seals (I’ve yet to spot a penguin), it’s actually pretty exciting.
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The skuas weren’t down here when I first arrived. They didn’t start showing up until about a month ago. When the seals are birthing, the skuas hang out next to them on the sea ice to eat the placenta (gross). A couple of the skuas have taken to parking themselves at the entrance to the building where the cafeteria is and attacking anyone walking out with a plate of food. If you dare to do this, you have to cover your food or have it in an anti-skua device (aka tupperware). They can fly up to 30 miles an hour, so a skua dive bombing your dinner plate isn’t going to end well.
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Skuas dumpster diving. Photo credit
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Anything seen as harassing the birds is against the Treaty since they are a protected species. We can’t approach them, can’t try to move them or do anything to them really. Last year, when a skua landed on one of the vans, they had to switch all the passengers over to a new van because they couldn’t drive off with the bird on top. As soon as the second van moved, the skua flew away. The only people allowed to try to move them is the fire crew and that’s only if the birds are on the runway when a plane is trying to take off or land.
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Roald Amundsen, the first person to make it to the South Pole, apparently ate skuas as a meal (again, gross); I can’t imagine they were appetizing. In my google searching, I came across an online version of Amundsen’s South Pole logs where he mentioned two occasions the cook prepared skuas as a meal. One of these two meals was Christmas. Thank god for the Antarctic Treaty since we are not allowed to eat skuas here, so I have no fear of that as my Christmas meal.
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Skuas like to sit directly in the middle of the road. Apparently one year someone was driving Ivan, our terra bus, and there was a skua in the middle of the road. This vehicle, by the way, 67,000 lbs, so you can imagine it’s a bit hard to maneuver quickly. The driver decided he wouldn’t be able to move out of the bird’s way, but that the bird would surely move itself out of the way before being flattened by the vehicle. Nope. Maybe they did dine on skua that night in the cafeteria.
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At McMurdo, skua has another meaning. There’s a small building tucked away behind some other buildings called Skua Central. Essentially it is a freecycle where you can donate gently used items you no longer use, or pick up donated items for yourself. Need a sweatshirt? Skua. Forgot slippers? Skua. Tupperware? Skua. Shoes? Skua. You get the idea. When there are theme parties, skua is a great resource to find an outfit. We found holiday decorations in there as well. My friend Derrel found a belt that someone had fashioned knee pads onto the hips and a cupholder for your beer. He set it down thinking he didn’t want it and I instantly snatched it up. It can also be a verb: “Where’d you get that awesome t-shirt?” “I skua’d it!”
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Skua Central written in Greek. Photo Credit
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Inside. Photo credit
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Someone dressed as the Hulk dumpster diving a skua bin… welcome to McMurdo. Photo credit

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None of these photos are mine. I don’t have photos of any of these items discussed. They all have their credits though, calm down.

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