Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Palmer Station (Tues., 4/28/09) – Preparation and Anticipation
by -- April 28th, 2009

Busy making final preparations for our first day of full operations

During another windy day at Palmer, we completed final testing of field equipment, e.g., tags and echosounder gear. Though the winds prevented us from getting out in zodiacs to actually calibrate the echosounders, the boathouse and labs here at Palmer were buzzing with activity.  All the while the anticipation within the team continues to build as we near our first day of full at-sea operations, anticipation heightened by the sightings reported from the Gould (see map).

 

(37) First sightings of cetaceans in our study area

On this year’s cruise, we are splitting time with a group from Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks and the University of Maine, who are studying Antarctic ice fish. Their fishing takes them to Dalman Bay, north of Palmer Station, and while in transit to the fishing areas, our visual observers saw humpbacks and minke whales in areas that would be good working areas for us!!

 

During the day today we completed a setup and test of the echosounder gear, at least as much as we could do without getting the transducers in the water.  Elliott and I made all the electrical and data connections between the GPTs (the ‘brains’ of the echosounder system), the transducers and the field computer.  All of this gear (and the scientists – as you saw in the video) obviously has to be ready to brave the elements, so in addition to being stored in field cases, Ari, Pat and Ryan (boating coordinator here at Palmer) assembled the dodger that was constructed by the USAP logistics team to house all of the gear and scientists – we are affectionately referring to the dodger as ‘Elliott’s phone booth’ as he’ll be the one whiling away his days mapping krill (next, he just needs a boat!)!

 

(33) Our gear for the prey boat

The canvas dodger protects the acoustic gear from the elements while underway. The cooler houses an ethernet hub and two gel-cell batteries. The three Hardigg cases house two SIMRAD tranceivers (38 and 120 kHz) and a waterproof computer (that hopefully we won’t test). The orange rectangle in the bottom right is one of the two transducers that measure prey under the boat. With two gel-cells we can stay out most of the day until our extremities get chilly.

 

While being absorbed in our preparations, it’s tough not to be blown away (figuratively and literally during some of those wind gusts!) every time we look out the window or step out the door.  The magnitude of the beauty of this place is not something you can easily take for granted.  To take in some of the scenery, several members of the crew have climbed the glacier that’s just out behind Palmer Station.  This glacier, the ‘Marr Ice Piedmont’, is named for a British marine biologist, James W.S. Marr, who accompanied Mawson and Shackleton on Antarctic expeditions and was the commander at nearby Port Lockroy.  Interestingly, Marr also published the earliest comprehensive assessment of the biology of Antarctic krill, a truly seminal work.  Here are some quick facts about the glacier, and more information can be found in A.S. Rundle (l974) ‘Glaciology of the Marr Ice Piedmont, Anvers Island, Antarctica’:

 

  • ·      The Marr Ice Piedmont completely covers Anvers Island and is 600m thick in the center of the island
  • ·      Ice flow is toward the coast, velocities range from 10-200m/year
  • ·      The ice front is 55m above sea level and 35-40 m below sea level, at its deepest point. The ice face extends vertically down to rock (i.e. it is not floating). Wave and tidal action cut caves into the glacier at sea level
  • ·      The ice front has been retreating since at least l965 at a rate of 10 m/year, retreat is mainly by calving

 

A couple images of the Marr glacier…the first from the top looking down toward Palmer, the second taken from Palmer looking into the bay on the right side of the first picture.

(22) The view from the top

View of Palmer station from the glacier

 

(27) Beautiful Palmer

A great view from the station

 

 

On a personal note, I am honored to be working with such a professional and accomplished team on this project.  I may be the ‘band leader’, but all that means is that while I stand around waving my hands the team is actually ‘doing’; I am grateful for the skills and camaraderie they generously bring to our efforts.

3 Comments

  1. Ben Best
    Apr 29, 2009

    Nice map and equipment!

    This all hugely appeals to the geek in me. Oh, and the landscape is pretty alright too 😉

  2. Tom M
    Apr 30, 2009

    Looks like a great place to…

    Nice blogging guys.

  3. Brandon S.
    May 1, 2009

    GREAT STUFF

    Lots of fun and very interesting to follow your progress and sucesses with this wonderful website. Lots of people watching the science progress and your personal experiences with keen interest. Keep up the good work and best wishes for calm seas and accessible whales!!!

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