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

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