The Marine Conservation Ecology group in the Nicholas School has joined the Palmer LTER program (see: http://pal.lternet.edu) funded by NSF. The new whale component of the LTER is led by Duke Ph.D. alum Ari Friedlaender, now an Associate Professor at Oregon State (see: http://mmi.oregonstate.edu/ari-friedlaender) and includes the labs of Doug Nowacek, Dave Johnston and Andy Read at the Duke Marine Lab. The research program is intended to document trophic interactions among whales, penguins and krill in the rapidly changing environment of the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Field work occurs during the austral summer (typically from November through March) and includes satellite telemetry, photo-identification and biopsy sampling of humpback whales and quantitative mapping of krill density and distribution.
This is the first of a six-year funding cycle for the Palmer LTER and the first in which whale ecology has been formally incorporated into the science program. In 2015 Dave Johnston and Ari Friedlaender will be tagging whales on a month-long cruse aboard the ASRV Lawrence M. Gould while Andy Read and Zach Swaim will be conducting whale and krill surveys from Zodiacs deployed from Palmer Station during the same period.
Two trips to the Antarctic were conducted, the first from April 21 – June 11, 2009 and the second from May 4 – June 13, 2010. The purpose of the trips was to apply suction cup tags to humpback and minke whales that measure their underwater movements and behaviors. Concurrent to this, the researchers made very detailed measurements of the distribution, abundance, and behavior of prey (antarctic krill), as well as physical features of the water column. They then attempted to visualize the foraging behavior of the whales and test specific hypotheses about how the whales feed, the amount of prey that is necessary to support whale feeding, how much time whales spend feeding and how much they consume on a daily basis, and how they make decisions about the specific patches of prey to exploit.