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?
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.
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:
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!
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.