ARRIVAL AT PALMER STATION- CARNAGE

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Transmission from Karen Stamieszkin:

Warning: this is a somewhat gratuitous entry with way too many animal pictures

As the ship approaches Palmer Station, you get a beautiful view of mountains and glaciers sliding down into the Gerlache Strait.


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Upon arrival at Palmer Station, we were given the opportunity to ride in small inflatable boats to Torgerson Island, a small island only a few minutes from the station.  There an experiment is under weigh, looking at the impacts of human visitation on nesting behavior of adelie penguins.  The entire island is inhabited by the penguins, and visitors other than scientists are excluded from half of the island. 

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Adelie penguins on Torgerson Island, with Palmer station (left) and the LMG (right) in the background.


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Adelies on Torgerson Island with a sailboat in the background; yes, that boat and its passengers crossed the Drake Passage- I feel like a whimp.

The scene on Torgerson Island appears at first glance to be one of nursery serenity, with moms and chicks snuggling up together and dads bringing rocks to beef up the already well-used nests.

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A mother and her chick.

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A male adelie brings his mate and chick a pebble for the nest.

However, after about one hour on this island, I realized that the penguins are a main course in the Antarctic food web, and that a whole community of predators surrounds the penguin rookery.

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Here, a skua (the big brown bird in the foreground) devours a penguin chick which was still flapping its flippers when I grabbed my camera to take this picture- BRUTAL.

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Penguins are such an important source of food for skuas that they have made their own nest only meters from the penguin nests.  They are so well camouflaged that I nearly stepped on top of this mother skua, making her shriek, calling in the male to fly around my head making threatening sounds.  Skuas are known for dive-bombing people and causing injury, so I backed away as fast as I could. 

While poking around the island, I also found a leopard seal lying lazily on an ice flow, just abutting Torgerson Island.  It appeared to have just feasted, likely on penguins.

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This leopard seal sports the bloody grin of a predator with a full belly, as it floats on an ice flow next to the penguin rookery on Torgerson Island.

This harsh relationship between penguins and their predators represents an important link in the Antarctic food web.  Penguins eat krill, which feed on phytoplankton- tiny marine plants which turn the sun's energy into sugars.  Therefore, penguins are a link from the primary and secondary producers of the sea to top predators such as skuas and leopard seals.  The relatively small number of links in this food web represents a fairly efficient system.

Stay tuned...more animal pictures to come.  And some science too!

1 Comment

Amazing animal pics! Due to bandwidth limitations on the ship, Karen is sending us low-res pictures. Perhaps if we're nice, we'll get her to put the full size pics up. I'm dying to zoom on the leopard seal.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Record published on January 11, 2012 7:07 PM.

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