19 January, 2000
Yesterday during lunch time, 12:45 pm to be exact, we were treated to an avant guarde concert from from Ghent, Belgium. It was carried via satellite to Palmer and piped through the "All Call" system for all to enjoy. The station stood perfectly still for this 15 minute musical gift. It was such an interesting mix of voices, coupled with the flute, clarinet, and viola. A loud applause errupted afterwards! Only in Antarctica, I thought.
After a productive morning in the lab, I spent the afternoon with the "sound guys," Doug Quin and Steve Dunbar. Polly Penhale, and Jim LoScalzo and I went with them to Cormorant Island so Doug and Steve could record new sounds of the cormorant chicks as they develop. Jim went off to photograph penguins. I set up the camera to take a digital panoramic of the island. I am hoping it will be posted soon for you to enjoy. While I was shooting, I made a mental note to watch out for the pair of renegade skuas famous for dive bombing visitors. With pictures collected, sounds recorded, and great vistas enjoyed, it was time to leave. The water was unusually calm. There was virtually no wind. It was a wonderful day to be out in the boat. As we puttered back towards station, Polly spotted a whale and Doug decided to drop his microphone into the water to try and pickup whale sounds. As we sat there in the stillness, a leopard seal shot up from the calm water right next to the boat, looking straight at us. It startled all of us! These animals have reputation for being quite intelligent and aggressive. Each one of us moved away from the edge of the boat and huddled near the center. Nervous and excited we watched as the leopard seal swam around and curiously studied us. It was a beautiful animal. Very sleek and stealth. A couple of penguins (leopard seal bait) were stranded on a clump of rocks away from shore. They were all too aware of this predator's presence. I heard people tell stories of leopard seals that would jump into a boat while in pursuit of a pengui!!.
We continued to head back to station, excited by what we saw! As we passed by Torgersen Island we spotted 3 or 4 leopard seals scanning the shore, looking for penguin dinner. Two seals spotted our boat and were interested. One in parcticular followed us all the way around the island. At one point we thought it might follow us to station! It was very exciting to see such a beautiful, strong, graceful, predator swim 6 feet from you!!
Back at the ranch..... After dinner, it was my night to GASH! In other words, clean the kitchen. At 6:30 the music is cranked up and the gashing begins. At 7:30 everyone bee lined it to the lounge for a science talk by Bill Fraser. Bill is the Chief Scientist at Palmer Station and his work on the Adelie penguin population over the last 20 some odd years has been incredible. He has seen first hand and has long-term data sets that support the impact of climate change on the Adelie penguins. Climate warming trends have impacted the penguins by the decrease in sea ice. Sea ice is home to algae that feeds krill larvae, Without the sea ice, krill populations diminish. A decrease in krill means a decrease in the major food source for penguins. To complicate matters for the penguins, it seems that the nesting habitat they select is equally important to their breeding success. For example, on Torgersen Island, site of a major Adelie rookery in the Peninsula, the north and south island colonies fare very differently. The south side of the island receives more snow deposits and therefore, it is harder for penguins to nest and lay their eggs. This seems to delay the hatching time for some of the chicks. To a penguin, getting a late start in Antarctica can mean the difference between living and dying. It is found that bigger chicks stand a better chance of making it to breed. Smaller chicks, ie: those hatched late, have the odds stacked against them. The krill population peeks in January in this area. By February, the numbers fall off. If you are a weak, low weight, penguin chick having to feed in February, chances are you won't make it. Seems like a sad scenario, doesn't it?
After the science talk and discussion it was time for bed. Another great day at the bottom of the world!
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