Monthly Archives: December 2013

Cameras and whales

27th Dec 2013

So far, so good! The cameras we’ve got to have survived the winter and seem to be performing well. We’re ticking off the sites north of the Lemaire and so far as I look through the images, they seem to have collected some excellent data. This winter was a huge year for sea ice, so it’s really important that we have good data to compare with the norm. We’re interested in the timing of breeding in particular and how that might have been delayed. My early impression is that the Adelies and Chinstraps were delayed, but Gentoos not really.

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We’ve set up cameras at a few more sites, and also tried to calibrate the colours within image with true colour. Paul is on board testing this, which involves him walking around the colony with a long stick with a colour standard on it. He then aims it at a penguin and takes a photo. I’m not sure the guests on board have figured it out – why he’s ruining otherwise excellent penguin photos with a stick. The goal would be to be able to measure what he does from my own automated (year-round) cameras.

High - vis clothing really works in the gloom. Here Paul heads back to the main group.

High – vis clothing really works in the gloom. Here Paul heads back to the main group.

We’re now on the Drake heading home again, and have been fortunate to have some excellent wildlife encounters. Just when we thought it was over, some spectacular humpbacks came and hung around the ship. Captain Oleg stopped the ship and we had about an hour of spectacular viewing.

It’s been great to rejoin the OD crew – there’s a fantastic team ethic on this ship and it’s great seeing old friends while working- it feels all the more special for having a (nearly) common purpose. Shane and the team have been hugely accommodating of the scaffold poles and paraphernalia that I’ve brought on board.

Humpback whale, Drake Passage, quite close to the South Shetland Islands. Humpbacks are so called for how they arch their backs when diving.

Humpback whale, Drake Passage, quite close to the South Shetland Islands. Humpbacks are so called for how they arch their backs when diving.

Also demonstrated here.

Also demonstrated here.

Getting ready to join the Ocean Diamond

Tues 18th Dec, 2013
I’m getting ready to join the Ocean Diamond, one of the Quark Expeditions ships. It’s a bit like home; I’ve worked with most of the crew before and the third season with Woody and Annie, second with Shane as Expedition Leaders. After all of the movement – I have no idea how many thousands of miles I’ve travelled since October – it’s nice to stay on one ship and be taken to all the cameras! No, that sounds really lazy, let’s say it’s going to be great to be part of the team again.

Ocean Diamond coming out of the Lamaire Channel, next to Booth Island (2 cameras) on route to Petermann Island (4 cameras) (c) Yukie Kopp

Ocean Diamond coming out of the Lamaire Channel, next to Booth Island (2 cameras) on route to Petermann Island (4 cameras) (c) Yukie Kopp

The Quark team have been incredibly supportive of Penguin Lifelines, so it’s time for some hard work on the ship and on the land. This is the time when we get most of the data – we have tens of sites, which are spread over the Antarctic Peninsula. Now we have to get to all of them and fix, change or service them before the ice closes in again. I’ve had the cameras in the back of my mind since the end of the last season. Have they survived? Trying to run a project on a tight budget at the edge of technology does not make for sound sleeping. Still, they have mostly survived in previous years…

Paul Nolan from Citadel University is joining me to test an interesting idea about colour change in penguins and to see whether this is something we could measure from my cameras. It would allow remote monitoring of the health of colonies. So, it’s time to pack up all the kit again and get on the move. The nice thing is that I’ll now be in one place (sort of) for the next five weeks.

Union Glacier and Gould Bay

Sunday 15th December 2013
I’ve just arrived back in Ushuaia after an eventful three weeks. Gemma and I left the Ortelius in Ushuaia after a really productive trip. Sadly, Gemma had to go back to the lab while I continue to get all the fun stuff in the field. Next step – Emperor penguins. After catching up with amigos at CADIC (Centro Austral de Investigaciones Cientificas) – the local science institute, I took the long weary bus to Punta Arenas. I shouldn’t complain, it was actually very comfortable but it took eleven hours and so gets a little tedious.

The next phase was to join up with ALE/ANI, a commercial operator running flights from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier to support expeditions and tourists into the heart of the continent. It was a very different experience to anything I’ve done before and was extremely impressive. As a guest lecturer, I was talking to lots of people about penguins while using the opportunity to do my own work.

I cannot possibly describe how impressive landing a jet on a glacier was, or taking a Twin Otter (light aircraft) and Bassler (converted, beefed up DC3) to the emperor penguins was. I had a total of four days on sea ice with the penguins near Gould Bay.

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The Ilyushin, just landed at Union Glacier.

The Ilyushin, just landed at Union Glacier.

Everything is better with regurgitated fish.

Everything is better with regurgitated fish.

The genetics went very well, the cameras not so well. I’ve got a few ideas buzzing around about how to monitor emperors, but the time-lapse camera I had with me for this year is not to be. The Gould Bay colony is really mobile, making it impossible for a static camera to record anything useful. However, I’m trying to come up with ways around this.

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Union Glacier Camp, Ellsworth Mountains

Union Glacier Camp, Ellsworth Mountains

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Day out in Union Glacier while waiting for the Ilyushin to take us back to Punta Arenas - is this really a job?

Day out in Union Glacier while waiting for the Ilyushin to take us back to Punta Arenas – is this really a job?

Two Emperors stooge next to the tide crack. Tom gets in the way.

Two Emperors stooge next to the tide crack. Tom gets in the way.

Twin Otter aircraft; I am seriously in love with these - they are incredible! Otters are very social and given the choice, they will hang around in pairs.

I am seriously in love with these aircraft – they are incredible! Otters are very social and given the choice, they will hang around in pairs.