Monthly Archives: January 2016

The name is Island, Danger Island…

Wow – hard month to sum up!

28th Dec, 2015

Once again, I’m on the Hans Hansson, but this time joined by a consortium of researchers who really want to get to the Danger Islands – it’s one of the biggest uncertainties in our estimates of change in penguin abundance around Antarctica. They are hard to reach and we think they are covered in Adelie penguins. So, when the going gets tough, we call on Dion and Juliette to get us there…

Dion and Juliette have brought on Alec and Gizelle from Pelagic, another Antarctic yacht, and the science team is a consortium of Mike Polito’s lab (Mike’s lab), Heather Lynch’s (Heather’s lab) and Stef Jenouvrier’s (Stef’s lab) plus Steve and Melissa from Oceanites. It’s a bonanza of experienced Antarcticans on a mission to fill in one of the last big gaps in Antarctic biology. It’s sponsored by the Dalio Fund out of Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution and we’ve got quite a lot riding on it! Gemma Clucas has joined me from Southampton University, but unusually we are acting as one big team rather than a small Penguin Lifelines unit.

The Danger Islands are surrounded by dense sea ice for much of the penguin breeding season, which partly explains why they have not been surveyed, despite being in the relatively populated part of the Antarctic Peninsula, with lots of scientific bases nearby. We wanted to try a light and fast approach with a small ship, which meant sneaking in when the ice looked right and running away as soon as it got scary. The islands are called the Danger Islands because they are surrounded by deep water and the first explorers found them in low visibility with no idea from their soundings that they were so close to land. The charting has not go much better – for most of the time we were navigating over white space with no idea of depth or indication of rocks. Times like that, you go very slowly and keep an eye out for unexpected waves that might signal shallow water.

An Adelie penguin in deep snow

An Adelie penguin in deep snow

Well, over several weeks, we managed to land all of the the Danger Islands and count what felt like a million penguins. It’s more than was thought, that’s for sure. There’s now some archive work and a lot of comparison to satellite images to do, but we’ve almost certainly found a load of new colonies as well. The challenge is to work out which were known and if there’s been any change.

A new camera up on Heroina, recording penguin activity I hope for the next 5 years.

A new camera up on Heroina, recording penguin activity I hope for the next 5 years.

Then Hans Hansson sailing past Comb Island, the fortress-like rock next to Beagle Island.

Then Hans Hansson sailing past Comb Island, the fortress-like rock next to Beagle Island.

All in all, another great success and a very happy team! It’s great to reach these places and even better to leave in one piece.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Update from the Arctic

More from Penguin Watch is imminent, but I thought you’d like to get an update from the “wrong” end of the world. I got swamped and have neglected the blog, so here are some photos from a trip to Svalbard for kittiwake and guillemot research. This is very different to penguin lifelines as this is more via collaborating with many other fieldworkers around the Arctic.

Mark Jessopp (from the CMRC in Ireland http://www.cmrc.ie/dr-mark-jessopp.html) and I placed and serviced a couple of cameras on Svalbard, with Quark again on the Sea Adventurer. It was great to be on with a bunch of friends and really great to work with Woody and Annie. Most importantly, the camera we placed last year was still there!

More coming on this in the next few months; we’re revamping penguin watch to be more useful for colony counts and to go beyond penguins. Stay tuned!

Tom and Mark celebrate a camera that survived the winter - we didn't really expect that!

Tom and Mark celebrate a camera that survived the winter – we didn’t really expect that!

South Georgia, mon amor.

Hi All,

23rd November, 2015

Well, here we are once again bobbing around the Southern Ocean. We’re on board the Hans Hansson in South Georgia, with Tom Murphy and 10 guests from Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris. All made possible by the legendary team of Dion, Juliette and Leif. Caitlin is with me as we return to last year’s sites to see how the cameras have performed.

Shags nesting on the wreck of the Bayard in Ocean Harbour

Shags nesting on the wreck of the Bayard in Ocean Harbour

With a lot of time on South Georgia, we have managed to return to all of the sites we got to last year. We’re getting some phenomenal imagery back from the cameras, which look like really good data. In particular, the new seal cameras have been a great success, we can now follow the reproductive success of elephant seals and fur seals.

Here’s a snippet from Ocean Harbour, which is a foraging camera. It takes photos every minute when penguins are raising chicks. That allows us to work out the length of foraging trips and potentially the feeding rate of chicks. You can see a changeover of partners start to happen in this clip.

Next up, Caitlin will join the Ocean Endeavour with Quark, to be joined by Anni Djurhuis and Hila Levy. I stay on board the Hans Hansson joining a team attempting the first survey of the Danger Islands.