EXPEDITION TO CAPE CROZIER UPDATES: October 21-27th

Wheels on Ice!

The Emperor Penguin Team successfully departed Christchurch on Monday October 21st and arrived at Scott Base, Ross Island, Antarctica . Our flight on the C-17 was an easy 5 hours and the views from the fixed window were marvelous. As we approached Antarctica the plane started to get colder forcing all of the passengers to put on our extreme weather gear. Landing on ice was smoother than I had anticipated especially considering the great weight of the plane and contents including a full size helicopter, packed cargo and passengers.  The C-17 landed and the passengers excitedly grabbed their things and started to exit the plane. Since the plane did not have many windows in the seating area our steps through the plane door were our first view of Antarctica.

For those of us who had never been to Antarctica before the views were quite literally breathtaking as the dry cold air filled our lungs. For others who have been here before, I can imagine this never gets old. In the distance we could see Mt. Erebus and Mt Discovery. We had a short walk on the ice to the large transport vehicle called a Kress. We boarded the Kress and after a safety briefing all the passengers buckled in and we were a short 30-minute drive to Scott Base. Once at Scott Base we received a tour of the well-maintained facilities and met with the staff to plan our busy week of preparations including our Antarctic Field Training (AFT) that involved an overnight stay on the ice.

AFT Overnight Oct. 22nd

As part of our field training we learned to use our primus stoves, set up tents, and safety procedures for working in cold and unpredictable environments. Following our training we then prepared our gear for our overnight stay on the ice shelf. We loaded all our gear on sleds and pulled them by hand for a half hour. We learned to drill ice cores and assess the stability of ice which involved first digging a hole in the snow about a meter and a half deep. Once we reached the ice-surface we used a Kovac-drill to burrow through the ice. We determined that the ice was stable enough to set up camp as it fell within the 70cm+ regulated thickness. Following the assessment, we proceeded to set up three Scott Tents and two mountaineering tents rated to withstand the worst weather conditions (Grade 1). Emperor penguin team member Markus created a much-appreciated  wind break and cooking area for the crew. With wind chill the temperature dropped as low as -36 degrees Celsius. We set up our tents, enjoyed a nice dehydrated meal, filled our water bottles with hot water, and headed to our beds. Exhaustion made sleeping very easy after this long day.

Recon Flight Success Oct 23rd

Gitte and Markus flew out to Cape Crozier today via helicopter to plan out our field camp location and locate the penguin colony. Good news the emperor penguin colony was located and estimated numbers are around 1,500 individuals. They were also able to locate a secure spot perfect for our camp. We are scheduled to fly out and set up camp on Monday October 28th.

Expedition Gear Preparation

For the last four days we have been busy gathering, weighing, putting together 5 helicopter loads full of essential gear we require while at remote camping at Cape Crozier for 3-4 weeks. Gear includes food for 5 weeks, 9 tents, generator, cutlery, sleeping gear and everything that we may require for daily use. It has been very busy and exciting packing all of our gear as we carefully plan what we will need for the next four weeks.

We also have been field testing our data-logging tags in the cold conditions and everything is looking good and ready for Monday.

Follow Us On Social Media

Behind-The-Science Look At The Technology We Use to Study Emperor Penguins: 10/17/19

Diving Deeper

Emperor penguins are the largest species of marine bird, and perhaps because of their size, they fast longer, dive deeper, and endure harsher conditions than any other avian species. As a top predator in the Antarctic ecosystem, they have a significant top-down effect on prey targeted during long, deep breath-hold dives. It is therefore essential to understand emperor penguin habitat use, diving capabilities, food habits, and behavioral flexibility in order to interpret their role in the food web and their ability to adapt to environmental change. However, studying marine vertebrates has its challenges, as we cannot visually observe their underwater behavior.

During late chick-rearing emperor penguins, a colonial breeding seabird, alternate 5-20+ day foraging trips with short visits to the colony to feed their chicks.  During these foraging trips they may travel over 100 kms from the colony and dive to depths exceeding 500 meters for over 30 minutes(Kooyman et al. 1992; Wienecke et al. 2007;  K. Sato et al. 2011; Goetz et al. 2018)! Incredible!!

Although researchers may not be able follow penguins on their extreme journeys, engineered data-logging tools (tags) allow us to track animals at fine-scale resolutions. This season we are deploying tags on 20 adult emperor penguins as they head to sea to forage. Four tag types of variable configurations will be used to study at-sea behavior. Some of the data these tags collect include dive depth, acceleration, GPS location, and video allowing us to determine where they go, when they are foraging, and what they are eating.  Additionally, the tags collect data telling us about the environment the penguins are using such as temperature and light level. With these data loggers we hope to document many firsts.  This will be the first study to document the foraging behavior of penguins from Cape Crozier, one of the southernmost colonies. Additionally, we are excited to visually document the foraging behavior of emperor penguins for the first time using a miniature video-logger developed by Little Leonardo Corporation in Tokyo. We will learn more about what they are eating and how they are catching their prey.

To further our understanding of the hidden lives of emperor penguins we must go where few have gone before.

Dive On,

Emperor Penguin Field Crew

Follow Us On Social Media

Vert Lab Blog

Stay Tuned For More Blogs From Our Upcoming Northern Elephant Seal 2019-20 Field Season (January-April 2020)!

While You Wait Please Catch Up On Our Recent Field Blogs Below!

Hidden Lives of Emperor Penguins

Background
Despite being the first emperor penguin colony discovered in 1902 during Scott’s Discovery Expedition(1901–1904) little is known about that at-sea behavior of emperor penguins from Cape Crozier. The first science expedition to study them was in 1911, when a small group from Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition team made the perilous journey to the colony in the winter to collect eggs. Since this early study, most research at the Crozier colony has involved counting the birds to monitor the population. This fall we will head to Cape Crozier to study the foraging ecology of one of the southernmost emperor penguin colonies. We hope that you will follow along on our adventure as we prepare for the field work, travel to Antarctica to study the birds, and analyze the data. We look forward to sharing with you new discoveries about the ecology of the emperors of the ice.

Student At Sea Perspective:

Fish Communication:

Did you know that fish make sounds? They do! Some fish species, like the rockfish you eat in your fish tacos, are soniferous (sound producing). Fish produce a drumming sound by striking the gasbladder (swim bladder) and the sonic muscle together. Rockfish (Genus Sebastes spp.) are a genus that produce low frequency sounds associated with agonistic interactions and territorial defense. Due to this ability, it is proposed that rockfish may elicit an acoustic response due to increased noise produced by survey vehicles used to study rockfish populations.

A day in the life of an elephant seal biologist at Año Nuevo State Park:

Student Perspective On Working In the Field With Northern Elephant Seals

BEEP! BEEP! I roll over to turn off my alarm and read the clock: 4:30 a.m. Begrudgingly I arise, slip into my field clothes, and head to the kitchen to make breakfast before beginning the forty-five minute commute to Long Marine Lab (LML). As I drive north, I mentally prepare myself for the day ahead. Today our focus is assisting with the annual weanling weighing effort. Upon arrival at LML, the field crew assembles all necessary gear, electronically checks into the park, and then piles into the truck. As we cruise up Highway 1 the sky begins to lighten, gradually revealing the charming California coast while the truck buzzes with conversation.

Follow Us On Social Media

Funded M.S. Position Available: MLML/Monterey Bay, CA

Alison Stimpert is recruiting a student for a funded master's of marine science position at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in Moss Landing, California. The student will work on a NOAA/Navy funded collaborative project using passive acoustic monitoring to describe ocean soundscapes in the US West Coast Sanctuaries (Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, and Olympic Coast:  https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/science/monitoring/sound/).  The student will be responsible for running established Matlab code to generate analysis products, attending group meetings, and assisting with field deployments and recoveries as needed, as well as developing an individual analysis project which will become a master's thesis.

By Alison Stimpert (own work)

Required qualifications include those listed for applying to the CSU/MLML graduate program (https://www.mlml.calstate.edu/gradprog/faqs/).  The ideal candidate will also have experience with marine bioacoustic/PAM data as well as programming in Matlab.  Position includes funding through August 2021, including tuition, travel, and salary, and preference will be given to those who can begin work in January 2020.  The accepted student will be expected to be an active participant in the MLML graduate program and a contributing member of the Vertebrate Ecology Lab team.

 

To apply, please send an email to Alison Stimpert (astimpert@mlml.calstate.edu) with the subject line: "SanctSound MS position" that includes:

1) a brief description of your qualifications

2) 1 or 2 thesis project ideas related to the research effort listed above

3) your available start date.

Application Deadline: October 30.

Emperor Penguin Field Expedition 2019

Emperor Penguin Field Expedition 2019

Hidden Lives of Emperor Penguins

Background
Despite being the first emperor penguin colony discovered in 1902 during Scott’s Discovery Expedition(1901–1904) little is known about that at-sea behavior of emperor penguins from Cape Crozier. The first science expedition to study them was in 1911, when a small group from Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition team made the perilous journey to the colony in the winter to collect eggs. Since this early study, most research at the Crozier colony has involved counting the birds to monitor the population. This fall we will head to Cape Crozier to study the foraging ecology of one of the southernmost emperor penguin colonies. We hope that you will follow along on our adventure as we prepare for the field work, travel to Antarctica to study the birds, and analyze the data. We look forward to sharing with you new discoveries about the ecology of the emperors of the ice.

This is an internationally collaborative project with logistic support provided by Antarctica New Zealand and primary funding provided to NIWA as part of the project “Ross Sea Research and Monitoring Programme: is the world’s largest MPA effective” (New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment: 2017-2022). Additional funding has been awarded to Birgitte McDonald by the National Geographic Society (Grant # NGS-50069R-18) and SeaWorld Conservation Fund.

Project Objectives
As abundant year-round predators, emperor penguins have a significant top down effect on prey in the Antarctic Ecosystem. It is vital to obtain information on their foraging ecology to understand their role in the ecosystem and how this may change with environmental change. Our collaborative project will investigate the foraging ecology and habitat use of Ross Sea emperor penguins during late chick rearing, an energetically challenging phase of the life cycle when parents must meet the energetic demands of their rapidly growing chicks. Specifically, we will use a combination of video cameras, fine-scale movement data loggers, and stable isotope analysis to: 1) Determine the activity budget of emperor penguins and estimate energy expenditure during a foraging trip, 2) Identify key prey of emperor penguins and identify stereotypical behaviors associated with foraging on different prey types. 3)Combine the energy estimations with the diet and foraging success data, to assess if emperor penguins are foraging optimally, and 4) Integrate penguin behavioral data with environmental data to identify which environmental features are indicative of habitat preference and associated with energy gain. This study fills important knowledge gaps on energy balance, diet, foraging strategy, and habitat use of emperor penguins.

 

 

NMFS permit # 19108

Follow Us On Social Media