"Pen Pal Dog Ear"
Dr. Ralph Bovard - January 20, 1997
The Doctor and the Students: learning through letters

    From: Dr. Ralph Bovard, Palmer Station.

Over the past few months, Palmer's resident doctor, Dr. Ralph Bovard, has corresponded via e-mail with students from the 5th grade class taught by one of Ralph's old high school friends, Scott Peterson, and another 5th grade class taught by Scott's wife, Janet. These letters provide a fascinating portait both of a place and a person, and also shows what interests young people about Antarctica and the unusual group of people who live and work there.

Mason City, Iowa, is the River City of Meredith Wilson's "Music Man" and Ralph's hometown. Ralph's folks still live there. His family lives up at Clear Lake in the summers which is where Buddy Holly played his last gig with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens before they were killed in a plane crash in Febrary 1959. Some of these letters served double duty going both to family and the 5th grade class.

P.S. We really will try to find out why Ralph has the nom d'email, Dogear (or is it Doggear?)


From: Ralph Bovard
To: Scott Petersen and Students
Subject: Hello Jefferson 5th grade
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 01:26:02 -0500

Greetings from down South.

Today we had 5 or 6 humpbacked whales in our harbour for 6-7 hours. Went out in Zodiac inflatables with them. I drove one of the Zodiacs for one of the (PBS) cameramen filming for Live from Antarctica (LFA). He got some amazing footage with the whales just beside the boat. They are incredibly elegant and graceful creatures. (Ed. note: Viewers could see some of this great footage in LFA 2 program 1, and may well see more in programs to come!)

Two Humpback whales cavort off Anvers Island.

As you know there are many kinds of whales, some very big like the blue whale and others so small and slow that even Mr Petersen could swim faster. Just kidding. These humpbacks are among those called rorquals which will spin about deep under water to form a rising swirl of bubbles which tends to make the krill (small shrimp-like creatures) bunch together in middle so that the whale can just swim up through the middle and chow down. Cool huh?

They would come up nose first out of the water sometimes as if they were curious as to what was going on with these little inflatable boats and other times just roll and glide through the water, with their backs and dorsal fins glistening in the sun. It was a beautiful day and the mountains on our island, as well as those across the straits on the Antarctic peninsula, formed a beautiful backdrop for us. I hope that it comes out well for the broadcast.

Speaking of which, you should not exect to see me in the film. We tried once and the lens broke... just joking. They are trying to focus on the research and the lovely land and sea all about us. Besides I am not photogenic and sound like a frog when I try to talk in front of a crowd. Anyway, I did share some of the letters we have sent back and forth with Mr. Rink the producer of the film, while he is here and he may put some of our correspondences on the web site. So be sure to cross your t's and not end your sentences with a preposition. You could be famous and be on the WEB.

Adleie penguin on Torgersen Island.

Oh, a couple of interesting things. There are no bugs here. At least no mosquitos, butterflys, flies, beetles, cockroaches, worms, snails or such. However they have found ticks on penguins (just as your dog may get them), and mites on seals. Amazing to think that they could survive the cold and underwater isn't it?

Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins at water's edge, Hugo Island.

There are 3 types or species of penguin found on the islands near us here of the total of 17 penguin species. They are the: Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae), Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus), and the Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua). Usually the genus name of a critter is descriptive in a general way (Pygoscelis means stiff tailed back- side in Greek/Latin) while the second word/species name is often taken from the person who discovered or named the bird/animal. The Adelie penguin is named after the wife of an Antarctic explorer... her name was Adelie, naturally!!!.

Two Gentoo penguins walk along rocks, Hugo Island.

A tourist ship visited the station and 15 of us got to go on board for dinner. Among the passengers was the owner of the company that built the Chunnel. Cost of the 10 day cruise was $5,500 to 12,000!!! depending on whether you had the basic cabin or the suite. I want to be a doc on that boat!!!

I am trying to work on my video, but no way to compete with the footage the professional camera people are making. They have very sophisticated editing machines and computer programs to put all the sections of the film together into a coherent program.

Here are a couple of fun assignments for you. See what you can find out about:

Crabeater seal on ice floe in Loudwater Cove, Anvers Island.

1: Which animals the seals are most closely related to? Dogs? Cats? Deer? Gophers? Whales?
Who can stay under water the longest a whale or a seal?
How big are their lungs?
Do you think Kirk Douglas (as Ned Land in Jules Vernes' "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea") could really wrassle a giant squid and harpoon it? And how did Jules Verne know about all this stuff back in 1850 before it was discovered?

2. What was "Gondwana" land? Which lands once formed it? Do you really think it existed? How can continents move? Did you read that there is an iceberg now floating toward New Zealand that is bigger than the state of Rhode Island? That is pretty big isn't it?
Is smoking the real reason dinosaurs became extinct?

3. What is ozone? Why should you use sun screens? What is UV-B and UV-A... a new TV channel?

4. What can you find out about "ice fish" and how do they keep from turning into popsicles in salt water that is colder than freezing at -2 C. (29 F)??? And don't tell me they have anti-freeze in their veins. Speaking of which I heard it was pretty chilly up there. A balmy 40 F here.

Well, I have to get some sleep. Adios for now, Ralph

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