Category Archives: 2012/13 field season

End of the season – calm seas and safe passage.

Hi All,

Sorry it’s been so long – I had computer issues, which resulted in me neglecting this. This last post is pretty long and summarizes the end of the season, so bear with me! I’m back in the UK and I need to say a massive thanks to the crew and expedition staff of the Ocean Diamond – what a team! This has to be the most successful season yet and so much of it is due to their enthusiasm and patience.

I’ll keep updating this blog – as I go through the data from this season, there are likely to be nice photos and timelapse videos of the colonies.

I suppose the biggest event since the last post was Christmas! This was fantastic, but work doesn’t stop. We were landing at two sites that were important for genetics and cameras – on Petermann Island we were setting up cameras to look at the interaction between gentoos and Adèlie penguins. The Adèlies all had chicks, which were about a week old and lots of chirping and feeding behaviour. On Boxing Day we were crossing the Drake Passage again in stunning calm weather – when will this end?

An Adelie penguin and chicks on Petermann Island, Antarctic Peninsual

Christmas in Antarctica: an Adelie penguin and chicks on Petermann Island, Antarctic Peninsula

After Christmas, Gemma Clucas left and Mike Polito from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution joined me for the last trip to South Georgia and the peninsula (you can read his own blog here). Mike and I are working to get a load of different techniques working on the same samples. He works on stable isotopes to work out what penguins are eating, but he’s increasingly able to track where they are feeding through their diet as well. By linking this in to the genetics that Gemma and I are doing, we gain a lot of power. For example, we can say how a male penguin from Cuverville Island forages over the year versus an immigrant or transient female from Petermann Island. The increased resolution allows us to get a much better understanding of how fisheries and climate change are influencing penguins and what we can do about it.

A camera overlooking gentoo penguins on Saunders Island, North Falkland. The chicken wire is to stop Striated Caracara using it as a perch.

A camera overlooking gentoo penguins on Saunders Island, North Falkland. The chicken wire is to stop Striated Caracara using it as a perch.

We set off from Ushuaia to the Falkland Islands. At Saunders Island, we set up our first Falkland camera, having to add the chicken wire (see photo) to deter caracara using it as a perch. The camera overlooks a gentoo colony which is a very distinct population from anything else we’ve monitored, so it will be very interesting to see the results.

We also landed at Port Stanley and had a day working with Falklands Conservation, where we left a load of cameras for them to deploy on penguins at their study sites. After two beautiful days on the Falklands, we headed off to South Georgia.

At this point, I was getting very excited. I’m lucky enough to have spent quite a bit of time on South Georgia and it is the jewel of the Southern Ocean. Teeming with life, it is a sub-Antarctic island with millions of penguins, albatrosses and petrels. I’ve been very peripherally involved in some of their rat eradication work, and also worked with South Georgia in their excellent efforts to make this the world’s largest Marine Protected Area at 1.07 million square miles! There’s still loads of restoration work to do, but this is a beacon for Southern Ocean conservation and something that I want to emulate on the Antarctic Peninsula.

As we neared South Georgia, I was very excited about the prospect of revisiting my field sites, putting out more cameras and seeing friends at King Edward Point (KEP). It was brilliant to be back in such a special place, and the cameras placed by collaborators from KEP had perfomed very well at Maivikken. The weather prevented us from getting to quite as many sites as we would have liked, but all in all it was a very successful visit. We upgraded the camera at Salisbury plain and got some excellent results from it. You can see last year’s results:

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With a heavy heart to leave “the homeland”, we set off across the Scotia Sea back to the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s always tough to leave South Georgia, but at least I know I’ll be back!

We then had three days of rough crossing with high winds (but relatively calm seas). The Ocean Diamond was spectacular – it barely moved! There were still some people looking a bit pale, but I tried to convince them that they were actually having a really calm trip. I’m not sure if they believed me, especially when the winds were hurricane force for about a day!

And then we were back  – back on the Antarctic peninsula with winds easing and beautiful weather once again. We got in to new sites on Orne Harbour and Georges Point, and also got into Cuverville Island to recover our longest running camera.

The last few days were a bit of a blur trying to finish everything up, but we left Antarctica in January having had what must be the most productive season ever!

Crabeater seal taking a nap. The red spittle comes from the krill they eat. Krill are small shrimp-like crustaceans that just about every animal in Antarctica eats. Aside from climate change, the main conservation concern around the Antarctic peninsula is the krill fishery. These vessels are taking more krill, but the worry is not so much the amount as where they are taking it from - very close to penguin and seal colonies. Much of the Penguin Lifelines monitoring work is to work out if and where this fishery is impacting penguins so that we can create MPAs like the one around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Crabeater seal taking a nap. The red spittle comes from the krill they eat. Krill are small shrimp-like crustaceans that just about every animal in Antarctica eats. Aside from climate change, the main conservation concern around the Antarctic peninsula is the krill fishery. These vessels are taking more krill, but the worry is not so much the amount as where they are taking it from – very close to penguin and seal colonies. Much of the Penguin Lifelines monitoring work is to work out if and where this fishery is impacting penguins so that we can create MPAs like the one around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

I’ll get more images from the cameras up and a few timelapse as I process them. Meanwhile, I’d like to thank this year’s team: Ben Collen, Gemma Clucas and Mike Polito and all of the excellent staff from Quark.

Thanks,

Tom

Leaving Antarctica - sad but I'll be back! Meanwhile, let's hope all these cameras keep working...

Leaving Antarctica – sad but I’ll be back! Meanwhile, let’s hope all these cameras keep working…

Peaceful, sunny Antarctica (and lots more cameras).

Hi!

Another incredible Drake Passage with virtually no waves! I’m starting to wonder what we’ve done to deserve this or whether we’re building up some bad karma for a killer storm to end the season! The last crossing could well have been the Mediterranean, only a bit colder and with more albatrosses.

Majorly exciting news -we’ve recovered more cameras with truly excellent data, showing gentoos around the colony over winter, a very interesting behaviour in terms of how they might be outcompeting Adelies. We put out five new colonies and got a load of samples for the combined genetic/stable isotope study.

Shag Petermann

Conditions on the peninsula have been perfect, so we’re getting lots done. It’s been brilliant sunshine and very slight winds; we’ve seen nothing of the normal Antarctic weather that the stories of exploration are made. We’re meant to be testing kit for Helly Hansen (waterproof clothing), Sealskinz (hats) and Overboard (waterproof bags), but so far things have been remarkably benign, so I don’t think we’ve really tested them so far – lets’ hope we have some testing weather soon, but only if it doesn’t get in the way of work…

We’ve had two more cameras arrive, which gives us four more to deploy on the peninsula before we head for South Georgia. The quality of the data we’ve recovered this far is both a relief and very exciting to think what all of these new cameras we’re putting out will be able to tell us.

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The final thing is that it’s going to be Christmas soon, which means I need to finish the grant I’ve been working on, and also that we will have to find some time to celebrate. We’ve got a secret Santa style Christmas on the ship, which promises to be a lot of fun. Antarctica at Christmas – can life be better?

Bye for now –we’re heading off into the Southern Ocean again!

Tom

Cameras, scaffolding and lots of penguin data!

Antarctica! Land of the penguins and thanks to us, some brilliant cameras. Sorry about the delay – the first two trips have gone well and we’ve just arrived back into Ushuaia at the end of the second trip. We’re getting to know a new ship; the Ocean Diamond, which is proving extremely comfortable and a very nice ship. We’ve already worked with most of the staff, so it’s very easy to fit in and they make it incredibly easy for us to get our  work done.

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We crossed the Drake Passage with ease four times – relatively light winds and moderate sea, which meant people were largely happy at sea and everyone arrived at the peninsula raring to go; none more than us! The last trip was very short, with only three days on land. We managed to set the first camera and the new pole system worked very well. For the past two years, we have been trialling cameras glued to a tripod system. We’ve found this isn’t always strong enough to resist the winds and snow drifts encountered during the Antarctic winter, so we’ve redesigned this to bolt cameras onto a scaffold pole which is then erected inside a cairn of rocks.

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We set up the first of these at Orne Harbour, a Chinstrap penguin colony that we reached while they were still mating. We also retrieved cameras from Neko Harbour including one we set up on the penguin highway to capture movement and provisioning rates. We’ve then managed more cameras out at Neko, Petermann and Booth Island. Paula from Oceanites managed to retrieve our camera at Salisbury Plain on South Georgia, so we now have quite a few sites with two years’ worth of data. We’re now ploughing through these trying to work out what’s going on. The really interesting story is the march of the Gentoo penguins down the Peninsula as Adelies and Chinstraps decline. We’re seeing gentoos in our photos as the sea ice is less consolidated over winter.

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So, we have one day in Ushuaia and then back to finish the job – can’t wait! Tomorrow Ben Collen returns to the UK and Gemma Clucas will take over as we continue to get cameras out and increasingly focus on the genetics.

I hope you are all well back home – speak soon!

Tom

Ushuaia – the end of the world (nearly)

A lot has happened since I last blogged.

This new blog is on the new site (www.penguinlifelines.org), which is meant to be more of a long-term stable home for the project and the counting tool. I’m in Ushuaia, one of the gateway ports to Antarctica.It calls itself ‘El fin del Mundo’ (forgetting Antarctica of course, and the bit of Chile south of it!).  Ushuaia has the feel of a frontier town, with a mixture of the very new and the very ramshackle. I love it, particularly as it’s the gateway to Antarctica! Also, I love it because it has this restaurant. Anyone supporting Movember (http://uk.movember.com/about/) this year, I’m thinking of you!

The Moustacchio Restaurant – a culinary tribute to facial hair.

This year I’m doing five trips on board the Ocean Diamond, a Quark ship that goes to the peninsula, the Falklands and South Georgia. It’s a new ship, so I look forward to seeing what she’s like (particularly on the Drake). The aims for this year are simple:

• Service and upgrade the existing cameras.

• Place at least 20 new cameras, some with built in sound monitoring.

• Trial the first satellite linked camera.

• Collect feather samples for genetic and stable isotope studies (where they go and what they eat).

To this end, I’ll be joined by Ben Collen from ZSL, who will be mainly working on the satellite camera but who is currently stuck in Buenos Aires due to a transport strike. He’s still got 14 hours to get here…Gemma Clucas takes over from Ben in December and will be focussed on genetic samples. Finally, Mike Polito joins at the end of December and will be focussed on the stable isotope samples.

Perhaps the most exciting thing for me this year is the prospect of the satellite linked camera. If it works, this is going to revolutionise monitoring around Antarctica – we will be able to monitor wildlife in places we only visit every 10 years! The backstory to this project is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_wYdirwa3g

More to follow, but I’ll save the photos for when we actually get near to penguins!