Tag Archives: gentoo penguins
The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming places on Earth. Around Palmer Station, the average winter temperature has risen by more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years. That might sound slow in human terms, but in terms of the rate the Earth normally goes through big changes, climate change is moving like a racecar coming around a curve.
Because the Palmer area is warming so fast, people who have worked at Palmer Station for many years have had a front-row seat for these changes. Even now, clear signs of the recent warming are all around. Today we went out with Donna Fraser of the Project CONVERGE penguin team. She’s been coming to Antarctica for 25 years—click through the slideshow to see some of the examples she showed us:
Our time at Palmer Station is drawing to a close. Tomorrow, the ship that brought us here, the Laurence M. Gould, will tie up once again at our dock. There will be a frenzy of activity as the scientists pack up all of their gear, move out of their rooms, do the last of their laundry, and have their last meals in the Palmer galley. The Palmer staff and the Gould crew will spend the day loading crates of gear onto the ship, and we’ll depart on Tuesday morning.
We’ve enjoyed writing and photographing this blog immensely. While we’re on the ship, we’re going to send a wrap-up post to bring you up to date on what the scientists found at the end of their field season, and what’s next for Project CONVERGE. We’ll also do our best to answer the remaining questions that you’ve sent in—so if you’re still curious about something, please send us a comment!
Donna Fraser remembers the day in 1993 when her team found the first gentoo penguin nests ever recorded at Biscoe Point. Fourteen pairs had set up a tiny colony on the rocky headland, which lies just 8 miles from Palmer Station. Gentoos are Fraser’s favorite penguin, and her response was, “Awesome, we’ve got gentoos in our study area!” But as much as she likes them personally—“I think gentoos just make everything right with the world,” she told me—it’s been a shock to see how drastically Adelie penguins have declined while gentoos have increased in the last 20 years.
Fraser and other penguin scientists are still researching the details of this switch, but the root cause is clear. The climate around Palmer Station has become more suitable for gentoos and less suitable for Adelies—and in geological terms it’s happened quickly. Click through the slideshow to explore the gentoo arrival in more detail:
My descriptions of penguin sounds weren’t so good, but fortunately I also have recordings from a couple of the nearby colonies. Listen to them below—and then if you can think of a good way to describe the sounds, write it in the comments. We’d love to hear your descriptions.
Here’s the gentle sound of a gentoo penguin colony from Biscoe Point, recorded on Jan. 12:
And here’s the harsher sound of an Adelie penguin colony from Torgersen Island, recorded on Jan. 10:
***Mt. Shackleton was named for the great British explorer Ernest Shackleton, who nearly reached the South Pole in 1908 and who sailed into the Weddell Sea in 1914 on a ship called the Endurance. The penguin team’s Shawn Farry reminded us that today was the 100th anniversary of the day that the Endurance became trapped in sea ice, forcing Shackleton and his men to camp out on the sea ice for the winter—and that’s just the beginning of one of the greatest survival stories in Antarctic history.
Yesterday, while we were out searching for krill with Dr. Kim Bernard, we saw lots of gentoo penguins, quite a few Adelies, and several chinstraps. They were doing the same thing we were—looking for krill—although I think they were better than us at finding them. They were certainly better at catching them.
Penguins are a big part of project CONVERGE because, ultimately, we want to know whether tides and convergence zones help to bring krill together into patches that penguins use as feeding grounds. To do that, there’s a whole penguin team of four people that spend all day, every day studying where penguins go, how they raise their chicks, and what they eat.
We went out with the team today and got an introduction to the three penguin species that live in the Palmer Station area. Click through the slideshow to meet the penguins and the penguin scientists, too:
Tuesday was a day off for the staff of Palmer Station. The day was sunny and calm—perfect conditions for a favorite off-duty pastime called recreational boating. We boarded a zodiac with station staff including the carpenter, logistics supervisor, satellite communications engineer, and utility mechanic. We loaded up with sunscreen, donned sunglasses against the brilliant white light, and pulled on orange float coats for safety. Everyone had a camera at the ready, and we set off to explore icebergs and islands.
For us it was a great introduction to the animal inhabitants of Palmer Station. We saw mammals, flying birds, flightless birds, and even a small but indispensable animal that keeps the whole ecosystem ticking. Can you guess what it was? Join us on our zodiac tour in the slideshow below, and find out the answer at the end:
Because krill are at the heart of the food chain, scientists pay a lot of attention to them. Krill are also at the center of Project CONVERGE. The team wants to know whether tides and convergence zones help bring together krill into concentrations high enough to serve as feeding hotspots for penguins. Radar helps the team map the currents and convergence zones. But how do they find out where the krill are? In our next post, we’ll go out with the scientists to answer that question.
On New Year’s Day we finished crossing the Drake Passage, saw our first icebergs, and made a quick side trip to a place called Livingston Island. We were taking food, supplies, and one person to a small group of five Americans and one Chilean who are studying the island’s seals and penguins. They met us at the beach, and station manager Mike Goebel greeted us wearing a Santa hat and carrying a candy-striped ski pole. They’d been living on the island for two months, since the Gould dropped them off on Halloween. Their neighbors are the Antarctic wildlife: fur seals, chinstrap and gentoo penguins, a few other seabirds, and the whales blowing just offshore.
Cape Shireff on Livingston Island is at about 62 degrees 22 minutes south latitude, 60 degrees 50 minutes west latitude—have a look for it on a world map. When we left the island we set our course for Palmer Station, which is at about 64 degrees south, 64 degrees west. We’re sailing through a narrow channel between steep, snow-laden mountains. Icebergs are all around us, and chinstrap penguins are standing on them. We’ll be at Palmer in about a day—depending on how many humpbacks the whale biologists find along the way for us to study.