Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Palmer (Mon., 5/18/09) – We’re Surrounded By Antarctica
by -- May 19th, 2009

…brash ice with two southern fulmars on ice bits off the port side, whales on three sides of us, penguins honking about 200 meters away, and glaciers calving 2-3 kilometers away….

In the past few days we’ve seen gorgeous sunny days, rough gale force winds, killer whales, and a few of the small krill that form the base of the Antarctic ecosystem. Due to the length of the cruise, we also improvised a graduation for one of the PhD students – me!

It’s been another couple of productive days science wise with a few rough and gorgeous ones as well. I was inspired to use this blog title a few days ago one of the MT’s, Julie was driving the prey mapping zodiac through a field of brash ice with two southern fulmars on ice bits off the port side, whales on three sides of us, penguins honking about 200 meters away, and glaciers calving 2-3 kilometers away. When I stated my wonder about the surroundings, she simply commented, “We’re surrounded by Antarctica.”

Yesterday and today were too rough to tag whales unfortunately as it was blowing 50 knots but it provided many of us with a useful couple of days off and some unexpected opportunities. After lunch a sighting of killer whales broke the monotony and got most of the scientists and crew up on the bridge. When the photo-id and sightings died down, we had a period of calm after the storm that I used to calibrate the towfish. The fish was initially named the hammarfish but because of the trouble we initially had it’s often been re-dubbed the pigfish or expletives that cannot be repeated in this blog. Nonetheless, after many trials and modifications, we were able to successfully get the towfish to fly and collect mostly noise free data. After the calibrations yesterday, we were able to conduct a short transect and tomorrow will try to conduct another with concurrent visual observations and prey mapping. This will be an important piece of the puzzle towards understanding the foraging decisions of whales, so I am excited to have it working.

Tonight at 8 pm Meng’s group did an early MOCNESS (which stands for multiple opening and closing net sampling system) to examine the vertical distribution of the krill. It was great because all of the daytime whale crew were able to see the little krill that make up the majority of the whale diet. It’s an amazing ecosystem where a single species can play such a pivotal role in the food web – serving as the primary prey for many birds and marine mammals here. For a size reference, these krill range from 3-6 cm in total length with most on the smaller side.

(74) Hooding Ceremony

Hooding Ceremony

On another note, graduation at Duke’s main campus was a little over a week ago – the day of our snowball fight and sledding at Almirale Brown. I was reminded a few times during the day that graduation was underway, and it made me longful to be unable to walk with my fellow Nicholas school students. You only graduate once from a PhD (at least I hope so in my case), and it’s a nice culmination to the past five (or eight) years of your life. My sadness was quickly forgotten after we hiked to the top of the hill at the Argentinean station and Pat offered to hood me as my advisor Larry was in Durham at the time. He used my NSF issued Gore-tex parka, raised my hood and stated “by the powers vested in me by the Duke board of trustees, I know pronounce you Dr. Elliott Hazen.” Upon returning to the ship a few members of the observer team had mentioned the date to the cooks and I had a graduation cake waiting for me after dinner as well – Captain Joe even posed with me making it quite a memorable day. While I truly missed my family and friends that would have attended graduation, it was a better graduation than I had imagined and provided me with a number of enduring moments.

1 Comment

  1. Life Cycle of a Whale
    Jun 3, 2009

    Whale information

    This was really an informative article. I enjoyed reading it a lot. Here is a site that I think will be of great interest to the readers http://www.whales.org.za .Keep up the great work!

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