Thumbnail image: Diane Stinson/Macaulay Library
[Video: Hugh Powell wearing a winter hat and coat, and standing in front of a building with a ladder leaning against it]
[Hugh Powell] The last uh few people who are trying to get here at exactly one to um, to get logged on and get their streams refreshed. So just bear with us for a couple of minutes and we’ll start off in a second. Um and uh, as a reminder feel free to enter your comments and questions for the scientists into the chat window at any time. We’ll be saving them up uh and asking them throughout the broadcast. So we’re really excited to have everybody here. Um we’re just going to wait one or two minutes more and make sure everything is working fine, and then we’ll start the full broadcast.
[Video: Hugh walks out of view, Donna Fraser walks across and then out of view. Hugh returns to view.]
[Hugh] Okay, we are ready to start I believe. Um and people can come in and leave, and go out as your schedule dictates. But my name is Hugh Powell, I’m a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And I’m very happy to welcome you all to this broadcast. I’m standing here at about 64 degrees south latitude at Palmer Station, Antarctica, which we’ll introduce you to a little bit, uh in a little bit.
Um, uh we’ll be talking today with two scientists, a physical oceanographer from Rutgers University, and a penguin ecologist from the Polar Oceans Research Group. And we’ll be showing you uh, we’ll be exploring a penguin colony that’s just off the shore of Palmer Station here. They have a camera there that is uh set up um, and we’ll pan around and show you some penguins, and we’ll get some insight into what they’re doing and how they live their lives.
So once again thanks to everybody for being here. Um please [wind gust] use the chat window at any time to um, to ask your questions and we’ll save those up and ask them to the scientists throughout the broadcast. I also want to apologize a little bit for the weather [wind gust], we are in Antarctica. Um today the wind came up [wind gust], it’s blowing at about 45 miles an hour, well maybe [inaudible because of wind gust] five miles an hour off the glacier from the north [wind gust]. We’re in a sheltered spot by the south side of the building here, but you may hear the wind gusts and I apologize for that. We’ll be monitoring the chat so if it gets too bad uh we can always move our location a little bit [wind gust] if you’re willing to bear with us. Um so uh, without further ado let me introduce the scientists [wind gust] that we’ll be talking with today. Um that’s Dr. Josh Kohut from Rutgers University. He’s uh here on my right,
[Video: Hugh moves to his left and Dr. Josh Kohut moves into view on his right]
and [wind gust] this here is Donna Fraser,
[Video: Hugh moves to his right and Donna Fraser moves into view on his left]
a penguin biologist from uh the Polar Oceans Research Group, lives in Sheridan, Montana. So uh before we go and take a look at the penguin cam, let’s just have a word from Josh about the work you do, and the project that’s going on here.
[Video: Josh moves closer to the camera, and Donna moves out of view]
[Josh] Sure, thank you very much, Hugh. As you mentioned, I’m a physical oceanographer. And one of uh many scientists that are down here this year, and for many years, looking at the whole ecology of the system here. One of the things that’s very exciting about this project in particular is that we’re looking at all aspects from the ocean, the way it moves, the temperature, the change in fronts uh with the currents, how that [wind gust] affects the entire food web. How it collects the phytoplankton that are the base of the food web. The zooplankton here meaning krill, as they um feed on that phytoplankton.
And then finally the Adelie penguins who you will meet today that are feeding on those krill. And we have many different scientists that are working on all aspects of that entire food web to try and understand [wind gust] why penguins forage the way they do. What are the decisions that they’re making as they go out to feed, particularly here now while they’re raising their chicks
[Video: Hugh nods]
before they crèche and then finally go out on their own. Uh and so you’ll hear a little bit about that through the broadcast. Uh if you have any questions about the science that we’re doing myself and Donna Fraser
[Video: Donna pokes her head into view briefly]
are happy to answer them. And we’re very excited to be working with you uh for this next hour to introduce you to this amazing place where we get to work and do our science.
[Hugh] Great. Thanks, Josh. And here’s Donna Fraser from the Polar Oceans Research Group.
[Video: Josh moves back and Donna walks into view]
She’s been uh working at Palmer Station uh since about 1989, and uh has done a ton of work on penguins and also on southern giant petrels and other seabirds of the area. Um so she’ll be able to answer most of your questions.
[Donna] I hope so.
[Hugh] And Donna do you want to say a few words about Palmer Station?
[Donna] Absolutely. Hi my name is Donna Fraser, thanks for the introduction Hugh, and Josh.
[Video: Hugh moves out of view then reappears in the back, mostly off camera. He moves out of view again.]
It’s great to be here today, it’s always great to be at Palmer Station. Uh I work in the seabird ecology component of the long-term ecological research, LTER program. And also collaborating with Josh
[Video: Donna turns to Josh and touches his shoulder]
[wind gust] on the CONVERGE [wind gust] program, so it’s fantastic that we’re able to link our various disciplines and get some answers to these questions.
[Video: Donna and Josh look at each other and Josh nods]
Um, all right so without further ado, I’ll introduce you to the Palmer Station area.
[Video: Hugh walks back into view]
[Hugh] I’m just going to step in for a second, Donna,
[Hugh] because we just got, and I apologize for this interruption. We’re just going to bump up the levels on the microphone a little bit, because a lot of you have been writing in to say that it’s hard to hear. So just let me know if that’s better through chat and then we’ll give you a quick tour of the station. How does that sound?
[Donna] Perfect. I hope.
[Hugh] All right. Let’s give it a go.
[Donna] Okay, so starting our spinning tour of Palmer Station,
[Video: Donna starts rotating the camera and two additional men are visible looking at a computer]
um here you see the local audience. Hi, guys.
[Video: The men look up, smile, and wave]
That’s our pit crew. Um and continuing on I’m gonna let the camera adjust.
[Video: Camera continues moving. The edge of the building, a covered area, water, and ice are visible.]
What you’re seeing now is Arthur Harbor, and the ice beyond that is the Marr Ice Piedmont. It’s a fancy way to say coastal glacier. The Marr Ice Piedmont actually covers southwest Anvers Island, and it’s named for James Marr who was a marine biologist on one of Shackleton’s expeditions and later base commander at Port Lockroy. A little bit, I’ll um, into Arthur Harbor here.
[Video: Camera moves to show more of Arthur Harbor]
Arthur Harbor was named for one of the Falklands Islands governors in the 1950s. And actually um Palmer Station was, the predecessor to Palmer Station was Old Palmer, which was part of the British Antarctic’s um, bases, and Falkland Islands dependency surveys, which is how we got some of our local names. Um continuing a slow spin here,
[Video: Camera moves to show more of the harbor, some islands in the distance, and additional buildings]
you can see Arthur Harbor, some of the islands in the background that are about a mile to two miles away. And I believe you can see Torgersen Island. We’ll be talking a lot more about Torgersen Island, but that’s one of the islands where the Adélie penguins nest. Beyond that Litchfield Island, Norsel Point. Um again our focal area. Ooh, sorry. Um we do get whales quite frequently in Arthur Harbor, and it’s also a place where visiting ships can anchor. All right, now on to a little bit about Palmer Station.
[Video: Camera moves and shows more buildings]
As Hugh mentioned I have worked here for quite a while, and the um. Palmer Station has a maximum capacity of about forty four people. It’s the smallest of the three US stations. And it was completed, it started out like I mentioned. Old Palmer was given to us by the British Antarctic Survey, and then rebuilt into bigger, um bigger and better Palmer Station, completed in 1970.
The Palmer Station is composed of three or four main buildings. What you see right now is the Biolab building, that’s half of berthing. That’s also where we have our dining room, kitchen, and let’s see some of the water storage. Um, fuel tanks. Everything is duplicated in both of the buildings just for safety’s sake. Um that right in front of you is the carpenter shop, and it’s pretty important to realize that we are 800 miles from the nearest hardware store, which means we have to have skilled craftsmen and tradespeople here in order to fix things that break, to construct whatever is necessary on site.
[Video: Birds are visible in the distance flying over the harbor]
So we have to be pretty self-reliant within Palmer Station. We get a ship that ties up if you can see the flagpole in that, I think you should be able to see the flagpole. Yeah, um right in front of that is our pier. That’s where our research vessel Laurence M. Gould will tie up. And we get the research vessel in about every six weeks for resupply and to do scientific cruises.
[Video: Camera moves to show other buildings and land jutting into the harbor]
Swinging a little bit further [sing-song voice] is Bonaparte Point. That’s the closest land, um and right there is Hero Inlet.
[Video: Camera shows supports of the roof structure, part of the roof, Bonaparte Point, and icebergs in the distance]
And that’s named for the Hero, which was our original research vessel up until the mid-1980s. And if you can see way in the distance there have a look at that gigantic iceberg. That has been teetering around for a while, and it is most likely grounded. As you know, um three quarters to ninety percent of that iceberg is likely underwater. And I would say it’s about seventy or ninety [wind gust] feet above the water. It is quite big. And that is sitting [inaudible because of wind gust] more than half [inaudible] can imagine how gigantic it is. And that is about the conclusion of our Palmer tour. I’m going to swing you back around slowly.
[Video: Camera moves back the other way to original position]
So that you don’t get seasick.
[Video: Hugh comes into view]
[Hugh] That’s great. Great job. Thank you, uh Donna.
[Video: Donna is visible on camera]
As I said Donna has spent many, many a year here. She’s very familiar with the station and its history.
[Video: Donna moves out of view and Josh moves into view]
So, so yes. Just before we get to the, the camera, I just want to just go over, and ask Josh and Donna to just describe briefly what is a day like [wind gust] for each of you. Um how do you do your work in Antarctica, and what kind of preparations do you make?
[Video: Hugh moves out of view]
[Donna] All right.
[Josh] Sure, it’s a good question because there’s really actually a hard way to answer that. There’s no typical day in Palmer Station. You heard Hugh when he introduced the call today about the weather. Today any plans that we may have had two or three days ago are [wind gust ] put on hold. They’re thrown out because we woke up this morning and the winds were very high, uh right now we’re having gusts to 40, 45 miles an hour.
And so under those conditions we can’t go out in the field and take the data and do the experiments that we need to do. And so we have to be very flexible. For us, when we get up in the morning the first thing we’re doing is checking the weather. And that’s going to dictate what we can and can’t do. And based on the weather it may be no time on the water, or it may be 12 to 15 hours on the water. It really depends on the weather.
[Donna] Yeah, that’s absolutely correct. And today is a good example of hurry up and wait. Also everything that we had planned for today gets put on to tomorrow’s agenda, which will be, make for a big day. What we do in the morn—a typical day for us is to assess the weather, as Josh has mentioned, and then [wind gust] see what we can do. If it’s not too wet we can get out and do work on different species. But any day typically involves changing transmitters out, weighing and measuring chicks, and doing various checks of the outlying islands. That’s pretty typical for us [wind gust].
[Hugh] Great, uh, so we had a question. Uh, we had a question from a viewer about is there a time of year Palmer at, when Palmer is inaccessible?
[Donna] Um, that, that’s really a good question because we are the most, in the summer we’re, I think that we’re the most remote of the three stations because of how long [wind gust] ship to get in, and we have no air traffic here. The only time that it would be completely inaccessible is if sea ice prevented a ship from entering Arthur Harbor. And it can be difficult, but a good sized icebreaker could get into the harbor most times of the year.
[Josh] And people do live here year round.
[Donna] Absolutely, Palmer Station is open year-round. Um open and operational. There are different science projects that are better to be done at different times of the year. Fish research typically goes on in autumn, seabird ecology goes on from October to April, and then glider work obviously when there’s open water.
[Josh] Yeah, yeah again it’s, it’s ice dependent. We’ve had over the last two years July and August the peak of the winter here, the pier has been very accessible. It’s been open and the issues have been more in the spring when sea ice further south begins to break up, and starts getting moved up north by the wind. And so it varies quite a bit from year to year in terms of how accessible the station is.
[Hugh] And uh, one last question from, from a viewer about uh, do you grow your own food here or how do you get your provisions?
[Josh] So that, the there’s no food that’s grown locally. At McMurdo Station, one of the larger stations that the US operates, uh there used to be produce that was grown in a greenhouse. Um but what this station has about like Donna mentioned [wind gust] every six weeks or so uh the ship the Laurence M Gould uh comes to the pier. It brings people as well as supplies. So there are food supplies here that are brought in. What we look forward to most are the freshies, the fresh fruits and vegetables that come from Chile before the ship gets here.
There are, though, stores of food here on station, non-perishables, that will last for about a year and a half with no resupply. And so there is quite a bit of contingency planning in terms of food for the people on station.
[Donna] Great question.
[Hugh] All right, so um thank you very much.
[Josh] You’re welcome.
[Hugh] Uh let’s, so now let’s go and actually take a look at Torgersen Island, um with the uh, using the camera that we have mounted there.
[Video: Hugh comes into view]
If you remember that’s the island just across the inlet from Palmer Station. So we’re going to cross over there now.
[Video: View changes to Torgersen Island with penguins on the shore in the foreground, Arthur Harbor, and Palmer Station across the water]
You should be seeing it. I’m gonna bring up our scientists so you can still see them.
[Video: Smaller view of scientists in the lower left corner on top of the Torgersen Island video]
And I think Donna can explain what we’re seeing here.
[Donna] Absolutely. Let me get closer.
[Hugh] Both the penguins in the front and us in the background.
[Donna] All right, fantastic. Thank you, Hugh. What you’re looking at right now is um Palmer, Palmer Station in the background. You can see the antenna towers, and the buildings, and I think a fuel tank or two. No, or not. And um our pier. And in the foreground is a colony of Adélie penguins on Torgersen island. It’s about a half mile away, and right now penguin chicks are in the crèche phase, which means that they are in loose, like nursery groups. They’re, they’re, they’re not sitting at specific nest sites any longer. Um, they’re in groups, you’ll see that in a second.
Um and as Hugh has already mentioned, I think Josh mentioned too, today’s really a blustery day, there’s high winds, we’ve had quite a bit of rain. So you will see dirty, muddy penguins. How about a closer look, Hugh?
[Hugh] Yeah, let’s take a look in, in just a moment.
[Hugh] Can you tell us how many uh penguins are at, on Torgersen Island? And how many are in the area?
[Hugh] And what kind are they?
[Donna] Absolutely, those are all Adélie penguins in the area. The ones that you’re looking at right now are Adélie penguins. We also have chinstraps and gentoo penguins in the area. And what? Okay, and um in the Palmer Station area just in the five islands surrounding the station we have about 2,000 pairs, of which um, I would say about a thousand of them nest on Torgersen Island. So roughly half of our local population. And um, other, gentoos and chinstraps. Gentoos are increasing, but they nest about eight miles from station. Chinstraps are, were increasing, they’re pretty stable now at about 350 to 400 pairs.
[Hugh] Yeah so, um. We’ve actually had a couple of questions
[Hugh] from people who are watching about the difference between Adélie penguins, chinstrap penguins, and gentoo penguins. And, I think they’re the so-called brushy-tailed penguins.
[Video: Bird flies through above the penguins]
[Donna] Absolutely, that’s a really good question. The three different Pygoscelis penguins, gentoos, chinstraps, and Adélies, they’re all the same genus, they’re just different species. So they’re closely related, they’re about the same size, roughly 18 inches high, they weigh between eight and ten pounds. Gentoos can be a little bit bigger than that, about 12 pounds. And they will have, Adélies are very, they’re the true Antarctic penguin. Gentoos are sub-Antarctic, but they’re moving into our area with more frequency. And chinstraps kind of, they straddle that boundary.
[Video: Main camera pans and zooms in on Adélie penguins. About 30 penguins are visible. Some are preening.]
We’re at the southern end of the chinstrap penguin range, and gentoos again are sort of expanding their range southward as the climate changes along the peninsula [wind gust]. How about this great view of Torgersen here? That is fantastic. So what you’re seeing now is a little bit better view of Torgersen Island. And you can see the adults, those are the ones with the white front and the black chin.
[Video: An adult penguin stands with head raised and flippers flapping]
In the very back of that colony there’s an adult with its head sticking straight up in the air, flippers are waving. That is an ecstatic display. Basically that, that adult is advertising territory ownership, saying come look at me. It’s an odd time of the year for them to be doing that, but oftentimes this, they’re not, that that’s not likely a nesting bird. But what they’re doing is advertising and practicing for next season. Uh the chin, the chicks in there are going to be the dark, dark gray ones. And as I mentioned earlier we’ve had quite a bit of rain. And so you can see that guano gravy that we call it. Comes back on our boots quite often, and our pants, and our faces, and our hands. But that’s uh, we almost wished that we had a scratch-and-sniff screen for you because it stinks.
[Hugh and Josh laugh]
So let’s see, what else, what else can we point out here?
[Hugh] Yeah so, that’s great. And we’re gonna give Donna a chance,
[Hugh] to catch your breath because we have another question [wind gust] in from another school [wind gust] asking Josh the difference between a glacier and an iceberg. So we saw the glacier behind us in one direction, and the iceberg off to sea. What’s the difference?
[Josh] Yeah, so the, the glaciers are attached, they’re on land. Um they are very, very old ice. Here we saw the introduction to the glacier off Arthur Harbor. That’s covering the entire island that we’re on. Um what happens is the glaciers migrate, they actually move very, very slowly. And these large icebergs, there’s icebergs of all sizes. But the one that Donna introduced you to that’s off in the distance, that was part of a glacier.
And what happens is as these glaciers migrate, parts of the glacier actually break off. We call it calving. And they actually drift in the ocean, they move around with the ocean currents, and they can be very large. It’s not unusual to see what we would call a tabular iceberg to be several miles in diameter, uh as they go across.
The iceberg that you saw off to the distance here uh is probably about the size of a large building, a school building or something like that. And so that was once part of a glacier along the peninsula, and it’s broken off and is now moving with the currents um, around the area.
[Donna] There you go.
[Hugh] Great, um and we have a question from a kindergarten class. Thanks for watching. They want to know how many eggs can a penguin lay?
[Donna] Great question. All right. Um, a penguin typically lays two eggs. Sometimes if one of those eggs get lost, gets lost, like if it rolls out of the nest or if a skua steals it, sometimes it can actually lay a third egg if that happens pretty soon after the second egg is laid.
And the reason that it has to happen soon is because, especially with Adélie penguins, the female, as soon as she lays that second egg will actually leave the nest and take the first foraging trip. The male has to sit on the nest and incubate for that first foraging, for her first foraging trip and stay there. Yeah so two eggs.
[Hugh] Yeah, um and another great question by somebody who is watching this feed you can see some green in the background on this view uh right here. And they’re asking is that moss, and do plants grow in Antarctica?
[Donna] Super question, absolutely. Um, you want me to answer that?
[Donna] Uh, okay.
[Hugh and Josh laugh]
That, you are looking at moss there. Fantastic, I’m glad that you mentioned that. Because a lot of people think that there is no plant life here. And actually we have two flowering plants on the Antarctic Peninsula, a pearlwort and a type of grass called Deschampsia. And um that is moss right there. There is also grass and pearlwort on Torgersen Island. And actually kelp gulls, giant petrels, and skuas will use the different types of grasses and mosses as part of their nest material. Penguins like you’re seeing right [wind gust] there. That camera on Torgersen Island.
[Video: One penguin hops up onto a rock]
All of our penguins here actually use rocks for nesting materials. So they don’t use the plant material, but other bird species do.
[Hugh] Great um, and we’re still. Questions are flooding in over here, so thank you for entering them all. Uh I think the next thing that I want to just ask uh Donna is can you describe what your research project is doing, um and why you go to these islands to look at these penguins?
[Donna] Absolutely. Okay, absolutely. One of the things that we’re doing is we’re using seabirds as indicators of change in the environment. So we look at different markers um, within their chronology or within their diets to tell us how they’re doing. One of the things is when they initiate their nest. When they hatch or lose their eggs or chicks. What influences the chicks growth? We do different diet studies so we’re looking at what they eat during the season. How that changes between the seasons and within the season, actually. Specifically penguins.
And then we also look at the birds that influence penguin survivals like um, giant petrels and brown skuas. So we’ll look at that. One of the other really important aspects of our studies is looking at foraging trip durations. And we do that a couple of ways. One of the ways is with satellite transmitters, and once we attach a satellite transmitter to a penguin’s back, we just use tape, it’s uh painless to them, very quick. But that helps us link into the research that we’re doing with Josh. And maybe Josh, you want to talk? Maybe Josh can talk about how our foraging trips can help you look at your data?
[Hugh] Yeah and I’ll just interject that you can find, if we don’t answer your question, you can find a lot more information below the video feed. Maybe after this video call is over. And there’s a link there to a blog that I’ve been writing along with my photographer colleague Chris Linder about all the research that’s been done, done here. So anything you’re interested in that we don’t cover completely here there’s a good chance you can find it there. So Josh maybe you can tell us what your work
[Video: One penguin chases another, they move quickly into view and across, partially on their bellies, then out of view]
in the ocean does and what it tells us about what the penguins are doing.
[Josh] Sure yeah one of the exciting things that’s allowing us to link to the great research that Donna and her team are doing is to look at those penguin trips. We’re actually using the penguins to tell us where the important parts of the ocean are that we need to measure. And so by looking at the tracks that we get from the transmitters on the backs of the penguins, we can send in our oceanographic tools. We have underwater robots that we call gliders, we have moorings
[Video: Penguin moves quickly into view, runs across, and out of view]
that we put out there with instruments that measure things like temperature, salinity of the water, that also measure how much phytoplankton and krill are in the water. And so we can start looking at how the penguins are deciding where to go, and actually letting the penguins tell us where to go. And so that’s allowing us to address questions that we couldn’t address otherwise if we didn’t have this valuable data on the tags on the penguins.
[Hugh] Great. We’re having a few more questions about the life history, and basically how the Adélie penguins make their living. So what kinds of things do they eat?
[Donna] Okay, that’s a great question because you would think that the, we’re in such an extreme environment, how are they going to make a living? Penguins, the penguins here eat mostly krill, they’ll eat, and krill are the small shrimp-like animals that are abundant in this ocean. And that’s also something that Josh’s instrumentation will pick up on.
[Video: Camera view moves across the harbor and to a close view of about 15 penguins standing, moving around, and preening. Some are dirty and they are standing in dark red guano.]
Great. So mostly krill, occasionally fish which is kind of like finding a big old steak nutrition-wise in a bowl of popcorn, as I like to say. And krill is what allows the penguins it, and actually if you look at the color of that, that there guano gravy you’ll see that it’s dark red. And that’s actually what the recycled krill looks like once it comes out of the penguins.
[Hugh] And somebody was particularly interested, because you mentioned that the males do a lot of incubation while the females after they laid an egg go off and forage. And so how do the males get any food?
[Donna] Well what they do is one, the male and the female will build, they’ll build their nest, they’ll go through their courtship prior to egg-laying. Once they lay those two eggs, because they’ve been on land for quite a while and the female’s put a lot of energy into those eggs. The female is the one that takes the first incubation shift, and it’s quite long. About ten days more or less. Once she comes back from that feeding trip, then the male gets to take his shift. So then they will trade off during the course of incubation, which is just over a month.
[Hugh] So they have to fast for a while, go on a diet?
[Donna] They do, they do. They fast for quite a while.
[Video: Pair of penguins in the group circling each other and a pile of rocks with heads down]
I might [wind gusts], what you’re seeing on the penguin camera right now is a pair kind of in the center of the view. And they’re doing a little bit of displaying. It looks like they may be thinking about setting up shop for next year. That’s a little bit of a territorial display. You can see that they’re rather dirty.
[Hugh] Those are the ones that are bending over?
[Donna] They’re the bending over, and circling around a pile of rocks. Um and then there’s a pair just immediately to their left that was, that were just displaying to each other, their necks in the air. That’s not, that’s not a, that’s a good territorial display, it’s not aggression or anything.
[Hugh] So is that a mated pair doing that?
[Donna] That is probably a mated pair doing that. And that other pair is still circling around. And I did see um, a pair of penguins chasing each other. One of the things that comes with this territorial defense you’re seeing, and nest building, and kind of practice for next year is that even though some of these birds are non-breeders they actually defend their territories.
And that leads to some violent fights, uh where the birds will chase each other off territory. And one pair zipped behind the camera on the last view. So it’s rather interesting to see. And you can see a couple of chicks in that view. They’re huddled together, this is the crèche phase. The chicks are about five weeks old. A couple more weeks, and you can see they’re starting to get a white throat patch there, just that one that shook its head. Um it’s sort of hiding behind a rock, but they’re starting to get their feathers in.
Once they get all of their feathers in they’re almost ready to move down to the beach and fledge. Fledging is when they’re independent from their parents and their nest. And that happens at about seven to eight weeks of age. You can see a parent, a parent in the back left side of the colony there’s a parent that’s just returned from foraging. And some walking past. A lot of birds are returning now from foraging trips. And you can see that they’re displaying, and getting ready to feed their chicks.
[Hugh] Great, and the, it’s really interesting to see this pair that seems to be thinking about nesting, it seems like the wrong time of year for that. And, and also what is with the pile of rocks?
[Donna] They’re practicing, that’s just good practice for next season. They may be young birds, or they may be birds that net, attempted to nest and lost this season. But they’ll actually pick up rocks, and make piles, and get ready for next year. So what you’re seeing is a lot of practice, and I, there’s some suspicion that that practice will help them be in a better, better position next year, like they’re a little bit trained up and a little more ready for what they’re going to encounter.
[Hugh] Because these are pretty long-lived animals, is that true?
[Donna] They are, absolutely. Adélie penguin, uh approximate wild life span would be 10 to 12 years. In captivity closer to 20. And I think the longevity record that we had was a blonde penguin here, uh blonde instead of black feathers, she had kind of a light brown or blonde. And she I think was closer to 18 years,
[Donna] so that was, but that was a standout. That was kind of unusual, so I would say average is 10 to 12 years.
[Hugh] Great and there are some questions about how you do the work that you do, and in particular people wonder how often you make physical contact with the penguins.
[Donna] Okay, absolutely.
[Hugh] What you do.
[Donna] And that actually, thanks for reminding me here, that’s a great time to remind um everybody that we, nobody here really works alone. What we do, Josh and I. We have these amazing field teams that help us and allow us to do the work that we do. And it’s important to recognize that everything is teamwork all of the time. So we come into contact with the birds uh whenever we outfit them with a transmitter, or whenever we’re removing transmitters, so we um try and limit contact and anything that’s invasive so that we’re not overdoing it. But we handle them just enough to get transmitters on and off, or um to, when we measure and weigh the chicks at fledging.
[Hugh] And handling penguins is pretty carefully regulated as well.
[Donna] Absolutely, everything that we do that’s hands-on or that’s potentially um, invasive, like any kind of handling is done all through permits. Everything is done through permits um, through National Science Foundation. And it’s reported to the Antarctic Treaty, so we’re all in compliance with that.
[Hugh] And even people, other people at Palmer Station have to stay away from the penguins so as not to disturb them?
[Donna] Yes they do. Yes they do. Part of the ACA. The Antarctic Conservation Act. Is that we have protected areas, and that helps give that buffer to seabirds and marine mammals, and even the plant life. Not that they need space during summer, but so nobody walks on the mosses or grasses.
And we’re very, very careful when we’re out and about not to disturb anything. Give wide berth to seals that are on land. Even penguins that we, if we don’t need to do anything handling-wise we don’t.
[Hugh] And when you do handle the penguins, do they put up a fight? How do you?
[Donna] They are pretty feisty. Yes, they are. They will defend their territories, they’ll defend their nest sites. And they’re extremely strong. So, the safest way to pick a penguin up is just under the flippers. You can see the one center of the webcam there, flippers straight out. And what you would do is aim for what I would call the flipper pits, right under the, where the flipper attaches to the body.
And it is, and it’s a battle, there, it’s 10 to 12 pounds of muscle. So we have to be very careful. Um, very, very careful the way that we handle penguins so that we don’t ever injure them. And much like your gliders we don’t want to injure our study subjects.
[Josh] That’s right, yeah. And I think the one thing I could add to that, that Donna mentioned is that we do have these field teams. And there’s a lot of logistics that go on for all the planning. So we have and our teams have planned for two and a half years for what we’re doing this year. And, and that’s uh, it’s, as Donna mentioned we’re 800 miles from the nearest hardware store. And even further from our labs back at our home institutions. And, so it’s important that we plan well in advance so that we make sure that we have all the tools that we need, and we have all the people that we need to complete all this work in the limited time that we’re here.
[Hugh] Great. Uh, we had a question come in, Josh, that was asking where are the penguins going when they’re foraging and why?
[Josh] Yeah that’s a great question, we have that same question. And that’s actually what we’re after trying to help answer while we’re down here. We see that the penguins sometimes stay very close to the colonies, not going more than a couple kilometers from the colony on their trip.
And that’s times when we think that the food is obviously much closer, and so they don’t have to travel as far. But there are times when we see the penguins go much further. They could go 10 or 20 kilometers on a round trip, which is a lot of energy for them to, to use to get out there and back to find that food. And what we think they’re doing is they’re looking for particular places where the food is concentrated.
So if you think about yourself if you’re hungry you want to go out and eat you’re going to go to a restaurant, you’re going to pick a certain spot to go. Well we think the penguins are going to these restaurants offshore that are really being concentrated by the oceanography. We think the currents are pushing foods like phytoplankton and krill together into these swarms, and that’s where the penguins are going. And, and we’re hoping to get some more information on that this year, and test that idea.
[Hugh] Okay, so I think we’re going to try to move the camera a little bit so we can see the area that’s kind of between the colony and the sea,
[Video: Camera view moves to show a rocky area]
and it’s kind of a fun spot where we can get a look at maybe some penguins will walk by if they’re feeling cooperative.
[Donna] This is definitely spying on them a little bit here. Catching them in the act of returning or leaving.
[Hugh] Yeah, and perhaps um, Donna you could tell us like what you know about how long they go out for.
[Donna] Okay, absolutely. That’s a great, that’s a great question, Hugh. Uh, the penguins, penguins that are foraging locally as Josh explained fantastically,
they’re, they’re mostly trying to find those close restaurants. And um,
[Video: Camera zooms out to show the water behind the rocky shore]
what we want to see is how easily or how difficult it is to, for them to fill their bellies. And when they’re, when they’re going out and they’re finding a restaurant close by, able to forage close by, they’re only gone for five or six hours. And we can see those foraging trip durations change throughout the course of a season. But what we’ve seen this year is quite a lot of inshore feeding, where they’re actually feeding closer to their colonies and nest sites. And that for them is super beneficial because they’re spent, they’re able to spend quite a bit of time with their chicks, and bringing frequent meals to them.
[Video: Camera pans right to show the group of penguins from a distance]
It’s great for uh chick growth, it’s super. So they’re, they’re feeding close by and not having to go to, too far. Maybe, the trips I think are getting a little bit longer,
[Donna] like more toward eight or ten hours, so they may be going farther at this time.
[Josh] Yeah we actually had uh, uh two penguins that were tagged. I think you guys were out there two or three days ago when you were at Biscoe looking at the gentoos. And as soon as the tags were put on the penguins the penguins went to forage, and they headed exactly to where three of our robots were sampling, and so we were pretty excited to see that.
[Donna] Mmhmm, absolutely.
[Josh] That we seem to be getting on to something here, to try and learn where these penguins are going and why.
[Hugh] Yeah so Josh you’ve referred to a couple of times your gliders, your robots. And that’s something that we explain on the blog, you can follow the link that we have at the bottom of the video feed, but I think since we have the expert here with us right now perhaps you could tell just a little bit about what these robots are,
[Video: A penguin walks into view from the right and toward the group. Another penguin walks toward the right in the background.]
and how they work.
[Josh] Sure, the robots are about six feet long, look like long skinny torpedoes, but they’re actually no propellers, so the penguins, listen to me, the gliders actually move through the water a little similar to a penguin,
[Donna] That’s true.
[Josh] when they’re diving at least. But they bring with them oceanographic sensors.
[Video: A penguin walks into view from the right, closer to the camera, then walks out of view again]
So we get measurements of temperature of the water, salinity of the water, how much phytoplankton is in the water, and they’re basically out there patrolling the areas where the penguins are foraging for up to a month or two months at a time. And we get phone calls from them every two hours.
They let us know where they are, they send the data back uh so we can understand what ocean looks like where they are now. Um and we can send them new commands. And so right now as we’re talking to you, um there are—how many penguins are tagged right now, about four?
[Donna] Uh, yeah four.
[Josh] So there’s four penguins tagged,
[Video: Camera zooms in on area just to the right of the penguins, with some penguins visible]
and we actually have five robots out there mapping the water around where the penguins are. So it’s a really nice example of how we’re combining transmitter technology on the penguins [wind gust] with a robot technology for the oceanography to try to really understand what’s happening just beyond where we’re standing right now.
[Donna] Our penguins don’t make phone calls.
[Josh] Right [laughs].
[Donna] So we have to, we have to spy on them in a different way than you get information from your gliders. And I did see a couple of penguins return to the colony and walking past. There, the one that just shook its head, and that’s on the very edge, right edge of the colony might be thinking about leaving. Actually now it’s thinking about preening, it’s just cleaning up.
And I should mention too that penguins when they come back, come back from foraging trips or even when they’re hanging around at the nest, they do spend time preening. That one is definitely preening, it’s got its bill down in its feathers. Kind of like cleaning up, taking a shower. They have an oil gland at the base of their tail, that’s where they get their waterproofing oil.
[Video: A penguin walks into view from the right]
[Donna] And penguins also go through a molt every season, where they molt off every one of their feathers. There’s a penguin that’s returning. Now that one is waddling as if it’s got a very full belly, excellent. Um, it might be going into the colony, and what they’ll do when they return from a foraging trip is that they’ll walk to the edge of the call and they’ll display, put their head in the air, and they’ll call.
[Video: Camera zooms in on group of penguins]
[Donna] So they make a, uh, uh kind of [inaudible because of wind] chick. What happens this time of the year when the chicks are in their crèche phase is the chick will actually run out, chick or chicks, run out and [wind gust] greet the parents. So it’s pretty neat to see that. And even what’s more interesting is that when the chicks are in crèche phase they will actually run at, the parent will run away from them, stop and call, and then the chick will chase them all around. When they go on these feeding, these little feeding chases a couple things happen. It ensures the parent that it’s actually feeding its own chicks,
[Video: Camera pans to rocky area between the colony and the water, where one penguin is standing and another is walking toward the water]
which is important when you have to go out and make a, make a living forging for krill. There’s one that’s walking past. Look at it go. They’re a lot more graceful on land than I am.
[Josh and Hugh laugh]
[Hugh] We also had a question because one of the viewers noticed the orange stuff on top of the rocks, and wondered what that was. It looks like spray paint but I don’t think it is.
[Donna] It’s not, do you want to answer that?
[Donna and Hugh laugh]
[Donna] Oh, okay.
[Josh] Not say no, but I would, Donna is much more familiar with it. It’s, it’s far too biological
[Josh] for me to answer correctly.
[Donna] It’s not remote control.
[Josh] That’s right, it’s not a robot.
[Donna] It’s not a robot. Yeah, that’s actually lichen. And it’s uh, we have several species of lichen here. Some that it’s more crustose,
[Video: A penguin walks into view from the left, near the water]
and it’s just sort of that um orange, looks like spray paint. But um it’s pretty interesting to go to the outlying islands and see so many different colors,
[Video: Camera pans to the penguin colony, with water and moss in the background]
and such a diversity of plant life on the lichen. And I think we’re zooming in there on some moss. But we’ve got several different types of lichen, and makes you wish we had caribou, but um we don’t. So nothing really uses the lichen, nothing eats it, nothing works it, on it, but um we do have lots of different lichens.
[Video: Camera moves around in the penguin colony with some chicks visible]
What do we have there?
[Hugh] We’re trying to find you a shot of some young, some penguin chicks. We’re getting a few questions about them, and I think maybe a few viewers are having trouble seeing them. So could you try pointing them out?
[Donna] Okay, yeah perfect Chris right there. Um if you could, okay. On that, on the upper left portion of the screen there are some uniformly dark gray blobs that look fairly miserable, and one walking too in the very center of the screen. Chicks right now are covered in down, and they’re just barely starting to get their adult fledge feathers in.
At the very, very center to the left of that rock, um, I can’t point, I want to point. To the left of the big rock almost dead center, high center in the frame. You can see a chick that’s got a white chin, and it’s starting to get the white feathers that are coming down through the down. So that is a chick.
And then to the very left edge of the frame there are sev—there’s a couple of chicks standing together with an adult that’s displaying right behind it. So if you look in front of that disp—on and then there’s an adult and a chick that’s displaying, top left corner. Uh the chick is shorter, and gray and
[Hugh] You mentioned that the chicks have down feathers, and so they are actually sort of fluff—fluffier and fuzzier looking, right?
[Donna] Absolutely, that, the adults are going to look streamlined completely black and white. That’s a great shot right there, center of the frame, just barely to the right. Oh and there’s a chick following a parent around.
[Video: Camera zooms in closer to penguins, showing chicks in the center]
You can see some chicks standing facing the right. It’s kind of facing center. And then there are two chicks that are mobbing an adult, just barely at the top of the frame almost out of view.
[Video: Camera moves up to show the chicks mobbing an adult]
And those are actually, yeah there you go. Those are trying to get fed from a parent that’s just returned from the sea. So you see the chicks are following the adults. The adults are calling to the chicks, and that helps the adult ensure that it’s feeding its own offspring.
[Hugh] And you may have touched on this already, Donna. But some students were wondering who exactly is taking care of the chicks?
[Donna] Mmhmm, okay.
[Hugh] Is it everybody? Is it one or the other?
[Donna] Right now it’s both parents. And when they’re in that, when they’re in that crèche phase the two chicks—the chicks will be standing in a kind of a nursery group, where there are very few adults guarding the colony, and a large group of chicks. That allows most of the adults, most of the parents to go out and feed and provision the chicks. So right now both males and females, both parents, are feeding their chicks. And when they’re in the crèche, that’s when both parents can go out and feed almost the same, pretty much at the same time.
[Hugh] And that lasts for a couple of weeks? You said these chicks are about five weeks old?
[Donna] They’re about five weeks old, yes.
[Hugh] Then at about what eight weeks they’ll be ready to swim off?
[Donna] Absolutely, by eight weeks they will be independent of their nest and their parents. And they don’t have any formal training, so when they leave and get in, when they go down to the beach for their first flight ha, for their first swim, there’s no training, there’s no YMCA lessons, nothing.
They eventually will get super hungry, their parents aren’t feeding them anymore, there’s no nest structure left. The chicks will gather on the beach and then off they go. They’ll jump into the ocean, and actually just start swimming and you’ll see them bob along, bob along, bob along, and then eventually they’ll start to figure out how to dive and swim. So there’s a, there’s a very steep learning curve there for chicks to get out, figure out how to swim and how to dive, and do it all on their own.
[Hugh] Yeah, that’s, so let’s talk also about the the rest of the year, right. So is, so we think about them nesting, we see them here in the colony. But you know thinking about these chicks learning how to swim, then where do they go? As soon as they leave, do they come back each night?
[Donna] No, they don’t. Once they leave the colony, once they’ve learned how to swim and they’re on their own they’ll start foraging and Adélie penguins specifically tend to move south. And what they’re looking for, their winter habitat is actually made up of sea ice. And so they need that ice platform during the winter.
And that’s, that’s really important because um as I mentioned Adélie are true Antarctic penguins. Chinstraps and gentoos on the other hand need open water. So once they fledge from their colonies, they’re looking for open water habitat. Um gentoos don’t necessarily migrate off their colonies at all. And so they stay in areas that are predictably ice-free.
[Hugh] But so,
[Donna] In winter.
[Hugh] but so with these Adélie colonies that we’re looking at,
[Hugh] you’re saying that these are going to be empty?
[Donna] They will be mostly empty um by the middle of February. And what will happen is once a parent has sent the children off to college, once they’re done feeding the, the chicks and they’re done provisioning the chicks every day. The parents will go out, find a really good restaurant, a great krill patch or several great krill patches and fatten themselves up. And get back some of the energy that they’ve spent the last eight or ten weeks raising their chicks.
And then the parents will go and haul up somewhere, anywhere, it doesn’t have to be the colony. Anywhere that they can get out of the wind and have a sheltered spot, and they will mold off all of their feathers. So the parents will then go through the molt, it’s kind of like, oh I’m done.
And then they’ll, once they’re fattened up and ready to molt, once they have their new feathers it’s time for them to start their winter. So these colonies will be empty within the next three weeks or so.
[Hugh] Wow, so it’s a short summer and then a long winter. And, and what is it about the sea ice? I mean is it beneficial to them? Is it like a form of transport? Is it a…?
[Donna] Right, it’s a, it’s a very good, it’s a platform that they need as their habitat for survival. So they’ll be larval, um the young, juvenile, the juvenile krill will be under that sea ice. And it gives not only gives the young krill a place to hide, but it gives penguins and other seabirds a place to forage for krill.
So it’s habitat, and for um, habitat for hauling out at night, and it’s also a great place for them to forage. And you can see in a, um super perfect view in that, the webcam. There are two chicks right in the center that are begging for food from two adults.
[Video: Chicks beg adults for food, and an adult starts feeding a chick]
And you can see, oh it’s feeding! Right on. There’s an adult, the adult on the right just fed one of the chicks. And you can see that they’re displaying. All of that, all of that head waving and calling, that I um, is all about identifying. There you go, there’s some feeding right there. So the mate that’s on the right probably just returned from foraging. The mate on the left may have just as well.
But one of them will likely um now take off and head to sea to feed. That is a fantastic view of two Adélie chicks being fed by the parents. And that chick that’s in the front, you can see it’s got a little bit of a goatee there left of down. The rest of it is mostly, on most of the down is molted off. Probably a little bit on its back still, but um.
Then there’s another chick behind it. And those are pretty chunky birds. Those are, those look very healthy. It’s nice to see them so well fed. Uh that, even just seeing chicks in that condition helps us to assess that there is prey close by. The parents are able to provision them. And that, I think that agrees with what you’re seeing, Josh?
[Josh] Yeah, it does, it does. That’s what we’re seeing. The, actually this year we’ve seen a lot of predators. The penguins have been not going very far. We’ve seen a lot of humpback whales
[Donna] Oh yeah.
[Josh] in the area, more than I remember last year, swimming very close to where these colonies are. And so we’re getting a very good idea of where these krill swarms are that the penguins are feeding. And hopefully we’ll understand a little bit about the ocean that’s happening right there as well.
[Hugh] You know, seeing those two adults uh standing there feeding their chicks brings up a question that has been asked a few times
[Hugh] now in the chat, which is do penguins mate for life?
[Hugh and Josh laugh]
Um, mostly? Yeah. They, they mostly do. But sometimes um, would, and I can, I’m thinking back to when we used to have specific bands on penguins. And a band is numbered, and it tells us exactly who that is. It’s like wearing an identification. And when we had banded birds we would see that mostly they do mate monogamously.
Um, but every now and then a penguin will disappear, either it fails to return for one reason or another, or it’s eaten by a leopard seal. Something happens that prevents its return to Torgersen Island or wherever it’s nesting. In that case um, um whichever mate is leftover, be it the male or female, will try and find a territory and display. And eventually remarry? I guess, mate swap, find another mate. Then you get that tense situation where um, every now and then there are two that are interested in the same male. And um, I’ve seen some fierce battles between the ladies.
They’re not always clean.
[Hugh] We had another question
[Hugh] come in that’s uh asking you Donna specifically since you’ve been coming down here for so long. Have you seen any changes in the environment, and in the penguins in that time?
[Donna] That’s a really, really good question, and um. One of the changes, when I started here uh, Torgersen Island had approximately eight thousand pairs of nesting penguins. And as I said we’re down to, I think just under a thousand pairs. So the, the Adelie penguin population in this area has decreased by about eighty-five percent. Um and that is mirroring a trend along the peninsula, not just around Palmer Station, but along the northern and central part of the peninsula.
Down to the south, however, we’re seeing stable to increasing populations, which has to do with changes in their marine environment, and is another thing we hope to get to in our collaborative research here.
[Donna] Um, so we’ve seen changes in the environment, we’ve seen less sea ice. We’ve seen warmer summer temperatures. Uh some changes in the width, went, wither. Wither! The wind and weather patterns, and um also. Just in looking around and we showed you the Marr Ice Piedmont, we showed you some of the islands that have snow banks, icebergs around. Um I’ve seen islands pop out from under glaciers. We’ve seen, we’ve had peninsulas that we work on, and points turn into islands. So that ice bridge will actually collapse and be completely gone.
[Hugh] Yeah, I think we just heard and, and we mentioned it in the chat window. Um you may have heard on the audio a big sound that sounds like thunder. And when you hear thunder here it’s not thunder, it’s a glacier that’s giving birth to an iceberg, basically.
[Donna] It’s calving, yes.
[Hugh] We just had a big calving event just now, um and Donna I think um if we had been here with you 20 years ago it would be a lot shorter walk to the glacier, is that true?
[Donna] Absolutely, absolutely that’s a, that’s also another good point. That the Marr Ice Piedmont is retreating at about 35 feet per year, so in the time that I’ve been here, that’s uh like a million miles.
[Hugh and Josh laugh]
It’s uh gone far, quite, quite a ways back. And actually one of the features, the reason that Palmer Station was located on Gamage Point. One of the things that they used to do back then was that they had, they used um meltwater to provide water for the station. So they, the proximity to the glacier face was one of the reasons this location was picked.
[Hugh] Oh, wow.
[Donna] So it truly has changed quite a bit.
[Hugh] Okay, well we’re getting close to the end of this broadcast. We still have about eight minutes left, so please do if you haven’t had your question answered yet please keep typing them in and we’ll keep collecting them. We had a question, or a few people have asked um, Josh mentioned about krill predators. But what about penguin predators? Um what kind of predator, what kind of animals are a danger to penguins?
[Donna] Um, absolutely. They kind of get it, they get hammered on land and at sea. So on land what will happen to them is that they’ll um, brown skuas in this area. We have brown and south polar, but brown skuas are the main predator, land-based predators, on penguins.
[Hugh] And can you describe what a skua is?
[Donna] Absolutely, it’s like a predatory gull. They’re actually in the gull family, and they’re um, about 4-foot wingspan on a brown skua. Um, about four pounds. And they’re large, predatory gulls, basically. Um they can fish, but also mostly here they will eat penguins, eggs, chicks. They can, they’re very strong. They can actually drag chicks out of the colony even at this point. So they’re, they’re opportunistic and efficient predators.
At sea they have to contend with leopard seals mostly. And um, that they can be anywhere. They kind of pulse in and out of an area. So we tend to see leopard seals this time of the year, at any time of the year, but certainly when they’re, the penguins start to fledge you tend to see more leopard seal activity in the area.
[Video: Camera zooms back to show the penguins and the water]
[Hugh] And so a leopard seal is not your typical friendly, cuddly seal?
[Donna] Not so much, no. A lot of teeth in that mouth. Yeah, so leopard seals actually, they don’t just eat penguins, they actually eat other seals and they’ll eat krill. If they um, krill and fish. We’ve actually seen them eating fish, waving fish in the air. Or actually saw one logging at the surface with a piece of a Weddell seal tucked under its flipper, which is strange sight I should say, yeah. So they too are opportunistic. Predators are quite efficient down here.
[Hugh] And there are quite a few leopard seals in the area. We actually, everybody woke up early yesterday morning and found a leopard seal on the dock that we use to tie up our zodiac boats, which are used for all of the work that’s done out here. Uh so, um, that made it a little bit difficult for us all to get out to work yesterday, didn’t it?
[Donna] Absolutely, gotta roll with the punches, huh?
[Donna] Roll with the seals.
[Josh] Yeah, definitely.
[Hugh] There’s also the question that has come in about just sort of what is life, what is it like to live here? And particularly, you know, do you miss your family? So can you both answer that?
[Josh] Sure. Life here is, is it’s really nice actually in terms of the support that we get, the science, it’s a great sense of community. Um there’s, during the summer there’s forty four of us on station. We have twenty or so are supporting the science. So it includes the mechanics that are keeping the generators going, the very important cooks that are keeping us fed. Um the boating coordinators who are keeping us on the water doing our science. And all the different roles that are played here on station that are really, really important.
And so you do get a great sense of community, um but you of course miss your family. I have a ten year old about to be eleven year old back at home, and a five year old daughter, my wife. And so you definitely miss your family while you’re down here, and you think about them a lot. But you do get a chance to keep in touch. Um we’re fortunate in that we have email access here, and internet access that’s actually good enough for us to broadcast a live camera feed back from Torgersen Island.
Um it’s also good enough for us to keep in touch with our family through voice phone calls, emails, and occasional video chats uh with them just to keep in touch. So, so that does help, but but it is difficult to be away.
[Donna] Oh absolutely, absolutely. It’s it, it’s uh, I was just talking to some, Chris here, and the way that I put it to people is that when I’m here, we’re gone with intensity. And when we’re home we parent, and we’re family, you know we’re there with intensity. Um and so you have to kind of adjust and do the best you can, and absolutely it’s hard to be away from family.
And um, I’ve got an eleven year old and I don’t know if they’re able to watch this today, but I sure hope so, and I miss him tremendously. Um and I also um, the other had, one of the lead principal investigator of our project is my husband, and so we have to kind of swap back and forth with being gone and home.
But having that, the community that Josh just mentioned truly makes it easier to be here. Uh we’re not, we’re not suffering. We’re being fed really well, but it’s just a fantastic community. Um our field teams are amazing.
[Video: Camera zooms out more and one skua flies in and lands next to another skua]
Um, and like your miniature families there. There goes a skua. Oh a skua’s landing! Great on the camera in the back, two skuas are displaying. I hope you got to see that. Um so probably scavenging some goodies.
[Hugh] Great. We’ve had a number of questions about, and about how do you tell the difference between male and female penguins? Is there any way?
[Donna] Uh there are, there is a way when they’re, mostly when they’re standing side-by-side or when we have them in hand. One of the ways is if they’re side by side like you can see some penguins displaying to each other in the the Torgersen penguin cam, males are slightly larger. Their, their culmen or their beak is, uh their mandible, is larger on a male typically than a female, they’re bigger bodied.
And if you have them in hand of course when we put transmitters on them we take measurements. And the weight, the body weight, that helps us as well. So mostly by size, and when you see them side-by-side it’s definitely easier.
[Hugh] Great, and the other question that has been coming in is just sort of how big are these penguins? Can you describe?
[Donna] Absolutely the, the three species, the brush-tailed penguins are about 18 to 20 inches high, 18 inches pretty much. And anywhere from four to four to, I’m sorry four kilos, so eight pounds, eight to ten pounds for an Adélie, and typically larger for gentoo, typically a little bit smaller for chinstrap. So what you’re looking at right now, probably eight to ten pounds.
[Hugh] Okay so um, uh, let’s so, so I think the last thing that we’re going to do here um is try to just take one more of you at the, at Palmer Station.
[Video: Camera pans over to and zooms in on Palmer Station]
We want to say thanks to everybody for joining us on this tour. Um we want to say thanks to the National Science Foundation, and the IT staff at Palmer Station for um, for making this possible. Thanks to everybody for tuning in and for um, for uh asking so many good questions. And you may be able to see us on here. We’re on the upper floor of that yellow building. Where that yellow balcony is, we’ll come over here.
[Video: Josh and Donna walk out of view of smaller shot, then Josh and Hugh walk back into view]
All right, well that was a lot of fun for us. So, so thank you everybody. And we have another one of these broadcasts on Saturday at eleven o’clock eastern. So we’ll be, we’ll be looking forward to seeing you again then, and answering more of your questions. And, and having a good time. So thanks to everybody, and goodbye.
[Josh] Thank you everyone, it was great. Great questions!
[Video: Donna walks back into view]
[Donna] Thank you! See you.End of transcript
[Video: Hugh Powell stands in front of a building with a ladder leaning against it]
[Hugh Powell] And I’m standing here at Palmer Station, Antarctica, um a US research station on the Antarctic peninsula at 64 degrees south latitude. Um and we’re really excited to bring you this broadcast from a penguin colony um just across the water from here. And the chance to talk to a couple of scientists who you’ll meet in just a moment.
Uh Dr. Josh Kohut from Rutgers University and Donna Fraser from the uh Polar Oceans Research Group. Um and throughout the, this uh broadcast, I’d like to encourage everybody to type your questions into the chat window, and we’ll get to as many of them as we can and answer them specifically.
Um, it’s, you’ll have to bear with us a little bit today. We are broadcasting from Antarctica. We’re about 7,000 miles away from the, from, from Cornell University right now. Um and it’s uh, pretty blustery outside.
It’s about probably 35 degrees and about 35 miles an hour of wind. Um so we found a sheltered spot um on station, and we’re gonna hope that you don’t get too much wind noise. Um and apologize for that in advance.
Um, so um, to give you an idea of how this uh broadcast will go, we’re gonna meet the scientists here is just a few moments. Um we’re gonna take you on a little uh quick, uh 360 degree tour of Palmer Station, so you can get a little bit of an idea of, of where we’re living here and how we’re living. Um and after that we’ll go over to Torgersen Island and view the penguin camera and we’ll start answering your questions.
Um, so uh once again thank you for being here. Um please do remember when you write your questions into the chat window we will answer those, um as many of those as we can and we will keep a list of them so that we, you don’t have to worry about us forgetting about your question. So there’s no need to keep posting your question um over and over again and filling up the chat window. So thanks.
Um, so without further ado I’d like to introduce uh Dr. Josh Kohut, uh he’s a physical oceanographer at Rutgers University.
[Video: Dr. Josh Kohut moves into view on the left]
[Video: Hugh moves to the back and out of view and Josh moves forward]
[Josh] Thank you, Hugh.
Uh, as Hugh mentioned I’m a physical oceanographer here on uh Palmer Station this month. We’re looking at how the oceanography, the temperatures, the salinities, and the currents affect the foraging behavior of the penguins that you’re gonna meet in this live chat, and uh live stream.
So uh I’m here, I’m excited to work with you, talk with you over the next hour and answer any questions you might have about how we’re trying to connect what the ocean system is doing uh to what the penguins are doing when they’re out foraging to try and feed their chicks.
[Video: Josh moves back and out of view and Hugh moves back into view]
[Hugh] Great, and now let me introduce uh Donna Fraser, who is a uh penguin and seabird biologist
[Video: Donna Fraser moves into view to the right of Hugh]
[Hugh] who has been working, hi Donna.
[Donna] Hi Hugh.
[Hugh] Um who has been working here at uh Palmer Station for about 25 years. Uh and has seen many things over her time. And she’s got a great insight into penguin biology and can tell you all sorts of Palmer Station history. Um so Donna perhaps you can tell us a little bit about Palmer Station.
[Video: Hugh moves back and out of view and Donna moves forward]
[Donna] Absolutely. Thanks for the introduction, Hugh. And it’s great to be here again today. Um, going to uh give you a brief tour of the Palmer area in a second. As Hugh mentioned it is pretty windy here, so you’ll get to see pretty much an authentic um Antarctic peninsula day.
I work with the Seabird Ecology Program of the LTER, which is Long Term Ecological Research. And we have had seabird research ongoing at Palmer Station since 1974. So we have about a 40 year history here total with our seabird research group.
[Video: Josh moves back into view on the left]
And it’s fabulous to be collaborating with Josh and the CONVERGE group. So um I think we’re ready to take our tour, aren’t we?
[Hugh] Yeah, let’s take a look around.
[Donna] All right, so I’m going to spin you as gently as I can
[Video: Donna starts rotating the camera. Hugh, the edge of the building, covered area with chairs, water, and land covered in ice are visible.]
Um all right, what you’re seeing now uh what you should be seeing now is the Marr Ice Piedmont, um which is a fancy way to say coastal glacier behind Palmer Station. And it actually runs the entire length of southwest Anvers Island on, along the coast. The Marr Ice Piedmont is actually um, retreating at about 35 feet per year, which means that the glacier was seriously close to station when it was built about 45 years ago.
Um, continuing on, what you’ll see here is Arthur Harbor.
[Video: Camera continues to rotate, showing more water and some dark clouds]
And Arthur Harbor is um, a place where a lot of visiting ships will actually anchor. If they’re spending a few hours for a tour visit, or if they’re spending the night. Um Arthur Harbor is um obviously deep enough for whales and seals and other, seabirds that we can see foraging around.
Um, and in the distance you’ll be able to see some islands. Uh some of the islands that are in the distance are Litchfield Island, which is a protected area. It’s protected for the moss and the seabird communities and the plant communities. Torgersen Island, which we’ll be taking you back to in a little while, is where we uh have one of our Adélie penguin study sites.
And um, those study sites I should mention, too. Those are the places that we access by inflatable zodiac in order to do our work.
[Video: Camera rotates to show more buildings]
So that is an important part of our day is how to get around our study site safely.
Um, you should be looking at Palmer Station. Palmer Station was built, uh completed in about 1970. It was built by Navy Seabees, and um, prior to Palmer Station we were over near Old Palmer, what we call Old Palmer on Norsel Point. And that was actually a, an old British station.
Um, in fact some of the names in this area like Arthur Harbor, and Norsel Point, Gamage Point, um the Marr Ice Piedmont, all those are historical names that come back from the, the FIDS, the Falkland Island Dependency Survey, which did a lot of work in this area when the British ran the station, Old Palmer Station.
Um, all right, so Palmer Station the maximum capacity is 44 people, and those uh 44 people are made up of half science, half support.
Uh the support is incredibly important to the work that we do here, and um, we honestly could not do what we’re doing without them, because um we have boat maintenance, and computer maintenance, and um, two absolutely amazing, phenomenal cooks that provide us with nourishment. And it’s a relief not to be cooking. I’ll mention that, too.
We also have skilled craftsmen and craftspeople that keep the station running. You’ll see the carpentry shop right in front of us there. Um when things break there is somebody here who is skilled to fix it. Uh the closest hardware store is 800 miles away, so that requires a lot of careful planning, and also having skilled members in the community.
Gonna swing around a little bit more here.
[Video: Camera moves to show land jutting into the water across from the buildings, and an iceberg in the distance]
You’ll see Bonaparte Point. Bonaparte um, in the closest bit of land to us, and it’s open for people to go hiking and walking around.
[Video: Camera moves to show the other side of the covered area where they are standing and more icebergs in the distance]
Um, and in the distance I’m hoping that you will see a very large iceberg. And I’m getting to them. Uh, the iceberg is about a mile from station right now. And uh, because there’s between 70 and 90 percent of icebergs are underwater you can imagine how big that is because it is about 70, what did we decide? 90 feet high. Uh so it is an enormous chunk of ice that’s been there for a while.
[Video: Camera moves to show two men standing near computers and with a stuffed penguin toy on the table. The men wave.]
Um, continuing on there’s our pit crew, hello hello. Thank you very much. Um again could not, and they are helping answer questions and driving the penguin cam around with an actual penguin.
[Video: One man gives thumbs up and the other moves the penguin]
Fantastic. Let’s see, and I think I’m almost back to here.
[Video: Camera returns to original position with Josh visible]
[Video: Josh moves out of view and Hugh moves into view]
Thank you Donna for that.
[Donna] No worries.
[Hugh] Um so now you’ve been acquainted with Palmer Station a little bit, and just to reiterate how isolated we are here at Palmer Station. Um we are on sort of the tip of the Antarctic peninsula, we’re about 800 miles, or about 700 miles south of Punta Arenas, Chile at the very tip of South America uh here.
It takes about six days on a good day on the ship that brings us down here just to get here. And there’s no um, no airstrip or air service here. So we are a little bit cut off, we do need to bring everything that we need.
Um I just want to um, ask a couple more questions of the scientists um before, and, and give you guys some time to, to enter questions if you have them for the scientists. And then we’ll just, and then we’ll go over and take a look at Torgersen Island and the penguins.
So um, the thing I wanted to ask Josh was um, how, what gave you the idea, as a physical oceanographer you study water, um to get hooked up and do work with penguin biologists?
[Video: Josh moves into view and Hugh moves out of view]
[Josh] Uh it’s a good question, Hugh. It, it’s something that I’m very interested in for my research. I work quite a bit in other places around the world on fisheries questions. And we recognize that fish just like penguins are using the ocean for their habitat. And they’re navigating through a lot of different areas.
They’re trying to figure out where the food is, where to uh be protected from predators. And all that is related to what the physical ocean looks like. Where the temperature breaks are, where the salinity is changing, um where the currents might be concentrating food that the penguins are looking for, or fish are looking for, or whatever that question is.
So when I learned about the great research that was being done by Polar Oceans Research Group and uh a project that happened uh about three years ago with Dr. Matt Oliver as the lead, uh we got to see how connected the penguins might be to the ocean and it really gave us this idea of how we could bring the technology, along with the technologies that Donna and her research team are using, to track and understand the penguins themselves.
[Video: Hugh moves back into view]
[Hugh] Yeah, and I could mention that if you look underneath your video stream um on the page, you’ll see um, uh some supplementary material and also a link to the project blog that I’ve been writing along with the photography of Chris Linder, uh who you just saw on the computer over there.
Uh, and that explains how some of this research is done, and some of the technology that’s involved with using robotic underwater gliders that go out to where the penguins have been, and sample the water conditions there. So um maybe not while you’re watching the stream, but afterwards if you’re um interested you can click over there and uh, and learn all you wanted to know about, about gliders.
[Hugh] Um, I also wanted to ask Donna um,
[Video: Josh moves out of view, Hugh moves left, and Donna moves into view]
if you could just kind of explain how a day goes at Palmer, at Palmer Station. How do you kind of do your work? You mentioned zodiacs earlier, explain what those are.
[Donna] Mmhmm, okay great, um yeah that’s a good point to go into our day a little bit. [Audio skips] up and around by about seven o’clock in the morning, and we, what we do first is most important as you can see on a day like today is we assess the weather and the conditions.
We try and match up good weather with our very long do list of things we have to do. And we try and get out to various islands to try and do our tasks, like chick weights and measurements, and transmitter deployments or retrievals.
We do some stomach lavage for diet sampling to see what the birds are eating. And um, it’s, it can be a very long list. Uh we always pack lunch, we always have our safety gear on board.
Uh zodiacs, zodiacs are inflatable boats. So they’re about 15 feet long, and we can actually fit everyone, our safety gear, lunches and um snacks, so we can actually be out for quite a while.
[Hugh] Hot tea.
[Donna] Hot tea, absolutely, hot tea.
[Hugh] Yeah, you go to about how many islands?
[Donna] We have about 21 islands in this area that we work on, and so.
[Hugh] And, and not just Adélie penguins, but
[Donna] Not just Adélie penguins, three types of penguins. We work with Adélies, chinstraps, and gentoo penguins. We also work with south blue-eyed shags, and kelp gulls. So the, the list can be very long on some days of things that we have to get done.
[Hugh] Yeah so there are only about 12 species of birds that regularly occur right around Palmer Station, and uh Donna and her team work on most of those.
[Donna] We know what they’re up to.
[Hugh] Great, um, well uh, let’s um, let’s make a little transition over here and take a look at what’s going on at Torgersen Island and then we’ll talk a little more about the research.
[Donna] Absolutely, that sounds fantastic.
[Hugh] All right, so just bear with us for a second.
[Video: Donna moves out of view, Hugh moves closer, then main view switches to Torgersen Island camera, with a group of penguins clustered together near the shore and Palmer Station visible across the water]
We’re gonna fade in a little shot of the penguins. And with any luck
[Video: Smaller view of Hugh and Donna in the lower left corner over the video stream from Torgersen Island]
you’ll be able to see a little box in the corner of your screen with your scientists.
[Donna] Okay. All right, maybe…
[Video: In small view Hugh moves out of view and Josh and Donna move around]
[Josh] You want to switch sides?
[Donna] No, I…
[Josh] Cuz I can see better on this side.
[Video: Josh and Donna switch sides so Donna is on the left and Josh in on the right]
Okay, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually [laughs]
[Video: Josh bends over to the ground then stands up]
[Hugh] Bear with us it’s a little bit of a bright day out here.
[Donna] Okay, yeah. Absolutely. So what you’re looking at now
[Video: Brown skua flies through the Torgersen Island view and Adélie penguins walk around]
is a view from Torgersen Island back looking at Palmer Station.
[Video: Josh moves out of view]
And we are on the deck of the taller building in the back, um. So Torgersen Island sits approximately a half mile from station. And, it’s one of, like I mentioned, it’s one of the sites of our penguin research.
So you can see an Adélie colony down in the, in the foreground and I can see an Adélie moving, walking along.
[Video: Josh moves back into view]
And just now a, a brown skua flew through the frame. So watch for skuas and watch for Adélie penguins. And we’ll also talk a little more about the behaviors that you’ll be seeing from the chicks and the adults.
So I think we can change the view now if that’s possible .
[Hugh] What these penguins…
[Donna] Good thinking.
[Hugh] how big they are,
[Hugh] how long they live,
[Donna] Okay so Adélie penguins are one of the three Pygoscelis penguins, the brush-tailed penguins, that we have
[Video: Main view switches to closer view of penguin colony. A mix of adult penguins and all dark penguins, the chicks, stand on rocks. Many are covered in dark red guano, as is the rocky area where they are standing.]
in this area.
[Video: Main view zooms in on some of the penguins]
Adélie penguins weigh between ten and twelve pounds, uh that’s four to five, four to five and a half kilos or so. And they stand about 18 inches tall.
Now, Adélie penguins are true Antarctic penguins. The other two species around here, gentoos and chinstraps, are actually sub-Antarctic penguins. So these are true Antarctics. The other ones, so we’re kind of getting to the northern end of Adélie range, but we’re actually at the southern end of gentoo and chinstrap penguin range.
[Video: Some penguins move around and interact with one another]
Um, Adélie penguins right now are weeks left to go before chicks fledge from the nest and become independent. Um, let’s see. They lay two eggs. We tell males and females apart based mostly on size. And when you see, what you have to, to do to tell them apart is see the male and the female standing side by side.
Um, we look at various things throughout the season like when they lay their eggs, um when they hatch, so those give us some important markers on the chronology of what’s happening.
Um, we put satellite transmitters on them and I think Josh will probably talk more about that later, about
[Donna] how that fits into what you’re seeing.
[Josh] That’s right. That’s the key piece of information that we need
[Video: Main view zooms out to show more penguins]
to understand where the penguins are going, and, and they actually tell us where the interesting parts of the ocean are.
[Donna] Absolutely. So getting back to Torgersen Island, um, what you are seeing is a very, very wet day in guanoland. That is, um, we affectionately call that guano mud, and I wish there was a way to let you know how, just how stinky it is. But suffice to say it’s stinky.
Um I can see some penguins that are displaying to each other. And you should also watch for the, the uniformly now, and within ten days of fledging from the island from their nest area.
The chicks right now are in crèche phase, which means that there are several chicks being guarded by very few adults. Um, and I’m looking specifically to see if we can see a behavior to point out.
I see a couple of adults displaying, um, so they’re, they’re waving their flippers a little bit, neck is in the air. I see a couple that are preening.
Um, but really it’s kind of a, it’s kind of a routine that they have that they go out and they forage, um come back, they display at their nest, the, they call, and they have vocal recognition between the adults and the chicks. So that’s how the chicks rush out and find their parents during this crèche phase. Otherwi—
[Hugh] Yeah, that’s related to a question we just came in,
[Donna] Oh great.
[Hugh] And I’d like to get to a couple of the questions that
[Hugh] people have been, been sending in. We’ve been getting quite a few, so thanks and please typing those into the chat window.
Um we have a question about how do penguins, I think because they look so similar, how do penguins find their mates?
[Hugh] How do they tell each other apart?
[Donna] That’s a great question. They, they all pretty much look the same, absolutely identical.
[Josh] I can’t tell them apart.
[Donna] I can’t tell the difference. So, penguins, they have vocal recognition between each adult, and also between the . They call from the edge of the colony, and the chicks will rush out and greet them during crèche phase. Before crèche phase when they’re still sitting in their nests, they’ll still return to the nest site, the actual nest where they laid the eggs, call to the chicks, and they’ll still do quite a bit of displaying, and uh vocal recognition.
Um, so that is a super question. Oh, long time, uh maybe 15 years ago we quit putting bands, metal flipper bands on penguins. When we used those metal flipper bands that was the sure-fire way to tell who was who. But there was some research that suggested having a flipper band would be like putting a very heavy bangle bracelet on an Olympic swimmer.
Probably would not affect them for a day, or two days, or a week, but after a while that, carrying the extra weight might affect their ability to perform. And so we’re very sensitive to not wanting to add that extra bit of disturbance, and actually we did remove all of the flipper bands. So we have to go by where they’re located and um, the clues like those to figure out who they are.
[Hugh] But do you know something about how long penguins stay together as a pair?
[Donna] Oh absolutely, um yes. They’re mostly monogamous but sometimes there are mate swaps, it happens. And um occasionally, they do, um change partners. Mostly they stay together for their, um, they don’t start breeding until they’re four to five years old, and they will mostly stay together for, um for their lifespan, which in the wild here is about ten to twelve years.
Um, you do epic battles, though, when a, an extra female comes to visit, and um sometimes penguins can be very harsh with each other.
[Video: Main view zooms in on adult penguin feeding chick]
Um, what are we seeing here? I am seeing a parent feeding a chick. If you right in the center. That parent is calling, um it’s vocalizing and now it’s getting ready to feed the chick. Um when a pair of Adélie penguins are raising two chicks that’s quite a demand of energy, for energy to, to continue feeding them.
And um, it’s important for them to get the best meal possible. Um, there you go, there’s a parent feeding a chick right in the center. Um, yeah, which brings up, I mean, how far are they going to forage? What are your robots telling us about that?
[Josh] The, the tracks that we’ve been looking at, um Donna and her team have been tracking the gliders using these small transmitters that are put for a day or two, uh sometimes three days on an individual penguin before it’s swapped
[Donna] Absolutely, mmhmm.
[Josh] to another penguin. Uh and when we see those penguins go out to forage, sometimes they don’t go very far. Um we’re, right here we can see Torgersen very clearly from where we’re standing and go, when they can travel quite far. Just beyond where we are right now is a large canyon. It’s called Palmer Deep, um and it’s about 3,000 feet deep, uh not very far from here.
And it actually is really productive. There’s a lot of phytoplankton blooms that occur here in the summer, and the zooplankton, which is the krill, which is one of the main prey species for Adélies is right there eating those, those phytoplankton.
And so the penguins can travel quite far, maybe uh 14 miles or so
[Donna] Oh, absolutely.
[Josh] would be their furthest. Uh which could last seven, eight hours uh where they’re away from the colony.
[Donna] Mmhmm, absolutely.
[Hugh] Thanks, and Josh we have another question about the oceanography that’s sort of contributing to feed these penguins. Um so, uh you think that the food is sort of concentrated or moved around at least by currents, and the question is do these currents stay steady year round?
[Josh] Oh, that’s a good question. That’s exactly what we’re after. Um we have different technologies that we use to measure the currents in this area. One in the waters that the penguins are telling us to go patrol, and then we also have a, a radar system that we use.
It’s used extensively in the US and around the world uh for coastal applications, but hasn’t really been used much in Antarctica because it requires power, and um communication, and we found a way working with uh great researchers at University of Alaska Fairbanks, one of our project team members, where they’ve put this system out and it gives us maps of currents every hour.
[Video: Main view zooms out and quickly moves away from the penguins, across the water, and to another group of penguins standing together, with some preening]
And we see in those maps that the currents change very frequently. Uh they’re changing by the hour, by the day, and what we’re trying to do is understand which currents that are changing at what scale are important to the penguins. And that’s exactly what we’re after. We don’t have the answers yet, we just know that it’s changing.
[Hugh] Great, um and I think we just uh moved the uh, the view around so you can our views, Donna, which is what is the average colony size of an Adélie penguin?
[Donna] Okay, so that’s a, a really good question because the average colony size varies widely around here, anything from about ten pairs to uh six or seven hundred pairs. And these are colonial seabirds, so they do best when they’re in a colony structure.
And they have that um, as you can see in what you’re looking at right now, there’s a little bit less structure because we’re in crèche phase, but during the early part of the season there is protection as far, in being in a colony structure. So the nests that are not quite on the periphery or the edge, but that are farther into the colony give a little bit more protection from skuas, the land-based predators.
[Hugh] Yeah, so maybe you could talk a little about what are those predators?
[Donna] Absolutely, Adélie penguins have challenges both on land and at sea, just like gent—gentoos and chinstrap penguins as well. Um on land they are badgered relentlessly by south polar and brown skuas, mainly brown skuas are the penguin predators in this area.
Or they also look for chicks that are either starving or not healthy, or unattended a little bit too early. But when they’re in this crèche phase, as, as you’re seeing on the penguin cam right now, there is, there are adults that are guarding the periphery of the colony. Um…
[Video: One penguin chases another]
[Hugh] And are the adults in danger from skuas?
[Video: Several penguins display]
[Donna] Absolutely, yes. Not as much as the chicks, but if there’s an adult that’s been injured, or not doing so well, uh they could be taken out by a brown skua. Once, oh sorry.
[Hugh] And could you remind us what a skua looks like?
[Hugh] You may see some birds flying back there, mostly skuas.
[Donna] Absolutely. You might see some. They are large, they’re brown, they have white stripes on their wings and their tails. And they’re, they’re in the gull family so they’re like predatory gulls.
[Video: Main view moves across land and zooms out to show larger group of penguins standing near the water. Snow and ice-covered land is visible across the water.]
And they’re about a four foot wingspan, and their body size is roughly three pounds. So fairly large bird, and they, we’ve just been seeing them, too, carry off eggs that never did hatch. Because we did some nests flood early in the se—, in the spring. So they’re still finding eggs around here.
And I know it’s, it’s hard for us to see sometimes the predators working a colony, but then we also have to remember as ecologists that those skuas are actually feeding their own babies, so it’s hard to see, but it’s kind of a necessary thing around a colony.
[Hugh] That’s one of the interesting things about Adélies, too, since they don’t fly, they’re actually quite heavy, big birds, so they actually outweigh skuas.
[Donna] Most of them weigh tenish pounds. And skuas at three pounds are just a little bit more adept at uh sneaking in for an attack on an egg or a small chick, uh even a large chick. And so, yeah they do have quite a few challenges on land.
Occasionally uh, giant petrels will get in there and try and scavenge. And giant petrels are much bigger than skuas so they’ll just get in there and steal their food, which is wonderful. And
[Hugh] But you know as a longtime penguin biologist that penguins definitely have their defenses, right?
[Donna] Absolutely, absolutely.
[Video: Main view moves across the penguin colony to show rocky island. Birds fly by, and a penguin walks into view and across.]
Penguins are solid muscle, and they tend to be really, they’ve got keen aim with their flippers. And um, they do cha—run out and chase skuas off, so they, they try and defend their nest sites.
In the water, you mentioned predators and the problems that penguins have. In the water, their main predator is the leopard seal. And so, the leopard seals, they’ll pulse in and out of the area. Some days we see them, we’ll go for a while without seeing them, and then you may see five or six in a day.
[Video: Another penguin walks into view and across]
Um, and they just try to wait to ambush penguins as they leave. Sometimes the uh leopard seals will sit very close to the surf line, and um penguins as they come and go from foraging.
Oh okay there’s a, if you look at the penguin cam right now you can see an Adélie penguin walking along. Um and they’re far more agile in the water than they are on land.
[Video: Main view zooms in on penguin]
[Donna] There you go. There’s a closer view.
And um, yeah, when they return from foraging sometimes they land on the opposite side of the island so they’ve got quite a bit of a walk to get home to their nest.
And amazingly enough they have the um, they have the um internal GPS to figure out exactly where that nest is throughout the whole season. In fact return to that same nest and colony year after year. Um…
[Hugh] Yeah, so they often come back, is this right that, to, so where they were born is most likely where they’re gonna come back to? How close?
[Donna] Absolutely, absolutely. They’ll come, typically come back not only to the same island but to the same colony. And we do know that from when we had banded birds, and we could see them returning to the area. It’s very rare that they would return to a different island.
[Video: Main view moves back to penguin colony and zooms in on penguins]
[Hugh] So this, this is a chick that might have, how many years later?
[Donna] Four to five years, we find.
[Hugh] To the same spot.
[Donna] Yeah, and actually that brings up a good point, Hugh, to mention that some of the birds that are standing around you can see in the penguin cam actually might not even be breeders this season. They may be nonbreeders, or young birds setting up shop and trying to learn their way around.
You’ll see birds even this time of the year collecting rocks and building a nest. And it may seem a little bit silly because they’re not going to nest until next October-November. But what they’re doing is they’re practicing to, in order to secure a position, to find a mate, to learn how to do the calls they need. And get ready as best they can for next season.
[Hugh] We had a really interesting question just a few minutes ago come in, um, because you showed the guano gravy,
[Hugh] And talked about the incredible smell of the colony.
And somebody asked, what they, why don’t penguins get sick when they’re walking around in their own guano?
[Video: Main view moves then zooms in closer on penguins and guano]
[Donna] Um, I’m going to guess. That’s a great shot of the guano pile.
[Hugh and Josh laugh]
Thanks Chris for that.
[Donna, Josh, and Hugh laugh]
I wish I could get you, get everybody a little closer. I don’t think that they get sick because there’s likely not much for bacteria in there. I mean all that is is recycled krill. Uh we’re in a very cold environment, so it’s not like a hot, tropical area that you would have um different germs and things festering there.
[Video: Main view zooms in even more on penguin covered in guano]
Um we rarely see penguins that are sick. In fact it’s um, very, incredibly rare. There have been a couple of outbreaks of avian cholera, which is naturally occurring in all bird populations, it’s not specific to Antarctica at all.
Um, but mostly they are
[Josh] near a colony yesterday,
[Donna] And how was that?
[Josh] and I was affected by it.
[Josh] It was, whoa!
[Donna] I bet your pants were affected by it, too.
[Josh] Yeah, I had to wash everything.
[Josh] Just from standing near it.
[Donna] I think my hands will smell forever.
[Josh] Yeah, yeah.
[Hugh] I spent a lot of time trying to think of ways to describe that smell.
[Video: Main view moves across the water and returns to a group of penguins]
[Josh] It is amazing.
[Donna] It’s horrible.
[Donna] Um, yeah, so you can actually see that the, quite a few of those adults um, and definitely the chicks are not immune to getting their own pants dirty.
[Donna] And boots.
[Josh] Yeah, I thought it was bad just being here on station and the wind would come from Torgersen, and you could smell it.
[Donna] Don’t blame the penguins, those are elephant seals that do that.
[Josh] Boy, when you get on that island.
[Donna] It’s heinous. Um, yeah, so. Let’s see what else we can see here. I’m thinking that…
[Hugh] Can you describe what a penguin nest is and what’s it made out of?
[Donna] Oh, yeah. Penguins in other areas may use things like grasses and vegetation, but here we don’t have that much grass and vegetation available where the penguin colonies are. So all the penguin nests here, all three species make rock nests.
And early on in the, in the spring season, in the spring season when they’re just starting to nest, rocks are almost this commodity that are hard to come by, so there’s quite a bit of rock thieving that goes on then.
Um right now rocks are plentiful and in crèche phase there is not a lot of demand to steal rocks, but they still do it.
[Video: Main view moves to a rocky area then zooms out]
[Hugh] Will nests survive a winter?
[Video: Main view moves to a group of penguins and zooms in]
[Donna] No, not really. They have to rebuild their house every year.
[Video: One penguin attempts to pick up a rock]
[Donna] And I think we’re looking again a close up at a colony. There’s a bird, oh just popped up. Um a bird walking past. Thanks. And um, let’s see what else is going on? Some chick feeding. And, I’m really not seeing a whole lot. What’s going on there? Dirty birds, guano. Yeah, it’s, it’s just a, it’s kind of a typical day in the Adélie penguin colony at this time of the year.
[Hugh] And we had a question from a viewer about um, are there more chicks than adults? And I guess that’s also the question of how is their clutch size? How do they?
[Donna] Absolutely, that’s a really good question. Because during the regular, during the early part of the season you’ll have a nest structure
[Video: Main view moves to show Palmer Station and zooms in on the building where the scientists are standing]
where they, they will lay two eggs. And,
[Video: Main view moves back to the penguins and zooms in very close]
they’ll lay two eggs. They incubate for just over one month.
[Video: Main view zooms out so more penguins and the water are visible]
And during that time the males and the females, the mate that’s out can be out foraging. Um, they lay two eggs, and when the chicks, both chicks hatch, um, they will be fed by both parents. And at this time of the year some of the colonies may actually have more chicks than adults because we’re in that crèche phase, where you have very few adults guarding a lot of chicks.
Now, you’re probably looking at this penguin cam and thinking that I’ve lost my mind, because I think there are more adults there than chicks, uh but that changes throughout the day. And it also changes with what Josh said, about um, we’re seeing penguins, we’re seeing penguins foraging so close to station. Those foraging trips are so short that they’re able actually able to go out, fill their bellies, and get back and provision their chicks.
So we’re seeing a lot more adults here,
[Donna] which agrees with what you’re seeing, doesn’t it?
[Josh] Yeah, yeah. We’ve seen them a lot closer to, basically all summer except Adélies earlier in the month. And then we started seeing them a little bit further away,
[Josh] and now you switched to gentoos for tagging, right?
[Josh] And we’re seeing the gentoos go very far out.
[Josh] They’re going much farther into the canyon. At least over the last week.
[Hugh] Yeah, so that actually brings up some interesting questions about the different species of penguins. And um we also had a question that just came in that said, that asked, you know, evolutionarily about how long have these penguins been around?
[Donna] Um [laughs] a long time.
[Video: Main view moves across the water, then zooms out to show two penguins walking across the rocky landscape]
I’m not, I don’t know evolutionarily how long. I mean the, the oldest, the fossil penguin was the six footer and um we’re way beyond that. Um, Adélies, chinstraps, and gentoos are so closely related they’re same genus, different species. But I’m sorry I can’t quite get into the exact evolutionary history of the
[Hugh] Small, small number of millions of years.
[Video: Main view zooms in on a rocky area near the two penguins]
[Donna] Small numbers of millions of years,
[Video: Another penguin walks by]
and now back to the penguin camera
[Josh and Hugh laugh]
where you see a bird returning from foraging.
[Hugh] Perhaps the Adélies, the gentoos, and the chinstraps are really, uh closely related, so what are the differences between them?
[Donna] Oh, that’s a super question. The differences between the three species of penguins we have here, is that like I said they’re closely related. Um, they have similar habitat in that they,
[Video: Main view moves to rocky area. Some moss is visible on the rocks.]
all three make rock nests. They all are found locally. Adélies are the only true Antarctic of the three species. Gentoos are sub-Antarctic, and chinnies are Antarctic, they um, but more found to the north. So we’re kind of the southern end of the chinstrap range.
[Video: Another penguin walks by]
Um all three species have about a month-long incubation. All three will lay two eggs, two eggs in a clutch. Sometimes they can re-lay a third egg, but only if something happens to the second egg pretty quickly, and um they can, the female can re-lay that third egg before she
[Video: Main view zooms back to show jagged rocks in front of the water]
goes out to forage. Oh, gentoos, chinstraps, and Adélies all are dependent on krill, the Antarctic krill
[Video: Main vie moves to the group of penguins by the water]
that are like little shrimp, little miniature shrimp. And um the gentoos will supplement their diet with quite a bit of fish.
[Video: Main view zooms in on rocks]
And actually that’s a change here that we’ve seen in the last 30 years or so is um less fish in an Adélie penguin’s diet. And um, more fish uh
[Video: Main moves back to penguins]
in a gentoo penguin’s diet. So, there’s some change, there’s some differences there. And also the timing of their breeding. So Adélies are the first ones to hit the rocks there, literally and figuratively. And get breeding.
Gentoo um have a much looser chronology, which means that there’s a wider spread in when they lay their eggs and get things moving. And chinstraps actually lay a couple two to three weeks later than Adélies. And what that allows them to do is wait until most of the snow is melted on the islands, and that’s beneficial to them.
Um also though, if in the colonies where the chinstraps and Adélies are mixed, the chinstraps are then relegated to kind of the periphery but then at the same time they are a little bit more vulnerable to predators.
Um gentoos have the best of both worlds where they can lay a little bit later, they’re a lot more flexible in their breeding, and they tend to have a better, I think a better success in that they’re not as hard-wired into their breeding chronology as Adélie penguins.
[Hugh] And so around here, um, you uh I think you have some, some strong results about changes in populations, in the, particularly in the Adélies and the gentoos?
[Donna] Oh, absolutely. Yeah, that’s a, um very good point. When the seabird breeding studies started here in 1974, what we saw was about 15,000, more than 15,000 pairs of Adélie penguins. And at this point we’re down to less than 2,000 pairs.
So, and it decreased by over 80 percent in the local population.
And that trend is not specific to Palmer Station. I want to mention that, you know don’t raise the red flag, it’s not, don’t, no alarm bells here into more of that genuine Antarctic habitat. And more of an Antarctic climate than we’re having here, you do see um Adélie populations that are stronger, and not having that strong decrease that we see locally.
Gentoo populations on the other hand have increased from nothing to over 3,500 pairs in the local area. And in one nesting area um south of the station by about eight miles. And gentoos don’t necessarily migrate off their colonies, so they tend to be in areas that have more open, reliable open water, which is near one of our CODAR sites,
[Donna] where we have the things that Josh was describing earlier.
[Hugh] So, um, so that actually kind of brings up a question that I’ve been wanting to ask that was sent in by Anders and Henrik Axelson
[Hugh] in Ithaca, New York.
[Hugh] And their question is, is climate change hurting penguins in Antarctica?
[Donna] Um, yes, absolutely. That’s a fantastic question. And, what we’re seeing, just why I spoke just a second ago about the, the drastic population decrease because of a lack of winter sea ice. The winter sea ice season, when it builds up it advances, and then it retreats.
The penguins, Adélie penguins need that sea ice habitat for over-winter survival. Not just for them, but for the krill that they’re dependent on. So that this winter sea ice provides habitat for krill as well as Adélie penguins. And um Adélie penguins typically have to travel farther during winter to find that habitat.
So yes, climate change has impacted Adélie penguins quite a bit. And it, it, so in a bad way. And in a good way it’s allowing things like a gentoo penguin to increase its range and expand into this area.
So, gentoo penguins have gone as I just mentioned.
[Hugh] And in about how much time is that happening?
[Donna] Just about 20 years, yeah.
[Hugh] Yeah, so and I think you were telling me a few days ago about you were kinda there when they first arrived.
[Donna] We were quite surprised to see the first 14 pairs of gentoo penguins and thought oh this is just amazing,
[Video: Main view moves across the water to another group of penguins]
yay, something new. And this is exciting. And then it just became even more exciting as their numbers increased dramatically. And now um gentoo penguins have pretty much taken over Biscoe Point.
So it’s an interesting change. And during my short tenure here to see these enormous changes in the wildlife populations, and in the, the landscape, and what we’re seeing and of course what the different research is seeing below the water line and above the water line. So it’s quite different.
[Hugh] And you talked about how the Adélie penguins um use sea ice, winter sea ice, and that brings up that question of [inaudible].
[Donna] Absolutely, Adélie penguins stay in, around the Palmer Station area from October when they start courtship and they start their nest building, and they’re, they’re getting ready for the breeding season. The month of incubation, two months of chick-rearing, then they actually leave the area once the chicks are independent or fledged from the nest.
The parents quit provisioning them, and the parents will actually go off and get fattened up. They’ll go out and find a good restaurant close by, good krill patch or two. And they’ll gain quite a bit of weight in order to go back to land and go through an entire body molt, where they molt off every one of their feathers and bring in a fresh set of waterproof feathers to get them through the next year.
Um, so that covers about five months actually of the year. And then once they’re done with their molt it’s time for them to start heading south, and find that winter sea ice habitat.
[Hugh] So can you just describe that a little bit. It seems strange, we’re in the southern hemisphere. So a migratory bird you might think would fly north, just like our birds in the northern hemisphere fly south,
[Hugh] so why do the Adélies ?
[Donna] They have to go south in order to find more of a winter Antarctic habitat. And then that sea ice is what’s giving um, kind of a nursery structure for juvenile krill. And um peng—Adélie penguins will get under the sea ice during winter and forage on the krill that are under there. And then they use that sea ice as kind of a habitat platform to haul out on at night.
And of course wintertime the days are much shorter here, and so they have to be able to get under that ice, forage very efficiently, and get out when it’s dark because then it’s, they can’t quite find their prey.
[Hugh] And that actually brings up another question for Josh, um which is uh, can you just give us a refresher on the difference between a glacier, an iceberg, and sea ice.
[Josh] Yeah, so the, when you look, when uh Donna gave that really great tour of area she showed you island, so that’s extremely old snow that has been weighted down, weighted down, and it actually compresses and forms this beautiful blue glacial ice.
Um very, very cold, very, very big. And what happens is occasionally ice from those glaciers breaks off, we call it calving, and it goes into the water. And those are what form the big icebergs.
[Video: Main view zooms out]
And the one that Donna also pointed out, just to our left, um there’s a huge iceberg out there that um, is many hundreds of feet tall, going from the bottom all the way up to the surface with the water line kind of in between. So those are glacial ice that have broken off and are drifting around with the currents.
And then sea ice is ice that forms each year when the weather turns towards the winter and gets colder.
[Donna] Zoom in.
[Josh] So it is, it is um. Water, sea water that freezes, and then in the summer, in the spring it melts and, and goes back in.
[Video: Main view zooms in on penguins]
So it’s not new fresh water that’s coming in, it’s actually just the
so here has gotten much shorter over the season. Over the last 40 years we’ve seen it reduce by 90 days. So it’s actually three months shorter. And it’s not unusual for this area not to see any sea ice at all. In fact the last two seasons we didn’t see any sea ice.
And so those are, those are the big differences between different types of ice.
[Hugh] Thanks. So in terms of um, thinking about habitat for Adélies, and Donna’s always been, has been telling us about how they use this winter habitat. And um, it, maybe it sounds strange because there’s no land involved, right?
[Video: Main view moves to another group of penguins]
But there’s a huge amount of sea ice that forms even if that total amount has been getting smaller. Is that true?
[Josh] Yeah, every, every winter Antarctica just about doubles in size.
[Josh] When the sea ice forms around the continent it reaches well north in different areas, um this area on the peninsula is actually seeing a decline. And so it’s unusual for other uh, from what we’re seeing in other parts of Antarctica. Uh this part of the peninsula that’s sticking north into the Antarctica circumpolar current which is actually a warm current, is uh seeing a drastic reduction in sea ice, in winter sea ice.
[Donna] And I wanted to point something out, if that’s okay.
[Donna] Um what you’re seeing on the penguin cam right now, um you’re seeing a few different things. There’s some adults in the very, very back that are displaying. And they’re, they’re getting their chicks to chase them. And during the crèche I think I mentioned already that they have feeding chases.
The parents center, and then displaying, but it’s already run away from that chick a couple of times. And you may think, what are you doing? You’re supposed to feed that chick, don’t run away from it!
[Video: Main view moves up and fewer penguins are visible]
What’s Chris Linder doing with the camera? Go back down. Please. Um yeah,
[Video: Main view moves back to the group of penguins]
they’re doing. Thank you. They’re doing that in order to ensure that they’re feeding their own chicks, because they’re no longer at a specific nest site, so they have to make sure they’re feeding their own babies.
And you see that they’re doing that quite a few times. And Adélies aren’t really big thinkers, but what they’re doing is they’re absolutely ensuring that they’re feeding their own chicks and provisioning them.
And I might, um, mention that a little bit, a little earlier we, I was able to see a fledgling, not quite fledged yet. But they’re mostly dark, you saw this last night.
[Donna] Mostly dark gray and they’re completely covered with very warm, fuzzy down that is a little bit guano-encrusted today. So they may look dirty to you and they are.
[Josh] It was yesterday, too.
[Donna] Oh, were they dirty? Absolutely.
[Donna] And then um what you might see are some of those chicks that are starting to look a little bit splotchy or mottled with their down. A penguin won’t go in the water until it has a full set of feathers, and they have no more of that gray, that dark gray down, like your coat.
[Video: Donna touches Josh’s coat in small view]
No more of that dark gray down all over their bodies. And thank you, Chris, that might be
[Video: One penguin chases another]
a great view to see. Oh, and there goes a penguin chasing another one away. They also defend their nest sites, which is a little cooky, but. They are really rabid about defending their nest sites and building those nests even though it’s not quite the right time of the year.
And um keep watching because you’ll see some chicks in there, hopefully that have some of their feathers coming in. And uh you can see that a penguin colony is quite a busy place. So there’s non-stop activity .
[Hugh] Now about uh, you know, penguins live really closely together but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re friendly to each other all of the time.
[Video: Main view zooms in closer on penguins]
[Donna] No, they’re quite mean. Did you see some fights last night?
[Josh] We did see some fights.
[Donna] Absolutely. They fight like none other. Um, so yeah, a penguin, an Adélie penguin colony, I like to say that they’re very type A, very regimented like a generic penguin, you know, black and white. And um.
[Hugh] We should say that Donna’s favorite penguin is the gentoo penguin.
[Donna, Josh, and Hugh laugh]
The secret’s out.
[Donna] Not the Adélie penguin. But um, okay there in the upper right corner you can actually see a chick, can you see that? Where it’s got its feathers, its feathers are actually coming through the down.
[Video: Main view adjusts to center a displaying penguin with the chick with some feathers to its left]
Um, and there is dead center in the frame a penguin standing as straight and tall as it can, um head is up in the air, and its flippers are waving. That is a display of ownership. They do that throughout as I mentioned, even if they’re practicing for next season.
Um Adélie penguins are kind of hard and fast type A, very hardwired to about a one meter square space for their nest sites. And um, they do defend their colony spaces quite adamantly.
[Hugh] And you mentioned that they’re made of rocks, and we had a question asked about do they just pile them up or do they cement them somehow?
[Donna] It’s just a big old rock pile. It’s just a pile of rocks that um, it’s rather messy.
[Hugh] And you said that this was an unusually deep, snow year. It was actually hard for them to build their nests. Why was that?
[Donna] It was hard because the nests were buried in the colony areas. And Adélie penguins as I just mentioned, they’re super hardwired, and they have a site tenacity, which means that even if there’s um two feet of, or four feet, or ten feet of snow on top of their colony space, they won’t move.
They will just nest in that one spot.
[Video: Main view zooms out to show more penguins]
So we’ve actually seen them stand there and literally melt the snow kind of down to the ground. Um, and they won’t go to a different spot. So that, wherever it is they want to go they’re not going to be free thinkers and move somewhere else with less snow.
Um, the other thing that happens is even in a year when we have uh not quite so much spring snow,
[Donna] but you get these blizzards that happen, is that a penguin will be sitting incubating their eggs on a rock nest, and a blizzard will come through and bury—we’ve seen entire colonies buried underneath the snow. Which is pretty interesting to go out there and there’s just a little penguin beak sticking out through the snow.
And they don’t abandon their nests, they just sit there on the, under the snow, and gradually they’ll melt out of that snow.
[Josh] They’re very dedicated.
[Donna] Absolutely. Absolutely, give them credit for that.
[Hugh] And just to say we’re starting to wind down, um, we have about ten minutes left I think, and so please, keep entering your questions and we’ll answer as many as we have time for.
[Video: A penguin walks by the group]
We had a question about can penguins eat anything other than fish, squid, and krill?
[Donna] They can, well they can eat other things, they eat amphipods, occasionally we’ll find some mollusk shells in their diets. Um, it’s not that they can or can’t , and what they will run into, or swim into when they’re foraging
[Video: Main view zooms in on penguins]
most of the time, or 90 percent of the time will be krill. Um, occasionally they’ll find some fish. And for them that’s like finding a steak in the, in the bottom of a popcorn bowl. Where they otherwise would have to forage for individual krill, but a fish with provide them with quite a bit more energy.
Um, so it really is the best thing for them to do to continue with what’s out there.
[Hugh] Okay another few questions coming in.
[Hugh] What percent of chicks make it to adulthood?
[Donna] Uhhh, about 20 percent. It’s, survival is hard the first year. Mainly because when the parents quit provisioning their chicks, and whatever the signal is. Chick development to go out and molt and get ready for winter. Uh when the chicks are done being provisioned, uh the adults will actually just leave.
So when chicks get to go down to the beach there’s no swim lessons, there’s no dive lessons. So penguins actually will make their way to the beach, stand there with other penguin chicks, and wait for one to jump in, um and whatever their signal is time to go.
They tend to bob around a little bit, and then they’ll start to learn how to dive. And we hope that they learn how to forage pretty quickly, because their parents will give them that one last feed and then that’s it until they can get out and learn how to provision themselves.
[Hugh] Great, thanks. And we have another question getting back to the um interesting dynamic between Adélies and gentoos, and asking are gentoo penguins considered an invasive species?
[Donna] Uh, no they’re not considered, that’s a really good question, I guess, ha, depends on the way you look at it. Uh, gentoo penguins would not be an invasive species because they are actually native to the Antarctic peninsula.
If it was something that moved down here from South America, or from a different expanding its range, so they did, they’re found on the peninsula just expanding their range southward.
Where Adélie penguins are true Antarctic birds. We’re in the northern end of their range. The entire Antarctic peninsula’s their breeding range, plus the Antarctic continent. So those, it’s getting harder for Adélie penguins to make their way here. But easier for species that are more adapted to sub-Antarctic conditions like a gentoo penguin. So that’s a really good question, though.
[Hugh] Great, um a couple more questions
[Hugh] coming in. Um, some viewers are really fascinated by the story of incubating during a blizzard and getting buried in, and uh they wondered can they breathe under the snow and do they get trapped there?
[Donna] Um, yes they can breathe, and so, incubating during a blizzard has got to be fairly hard for them, but they, they just are able to wait it out. And eventually you know the head will be in the air and you’ll see a little breathing hole form, and it’s not fatal to the parents.
Um, and they’re, they are very dedicated as Josh said to staying on top of those eggs.
[Hugh] So the danger then is what those eggs are resting on?
[Donna] No because the, the, they’re actually the, Adélie penguins it’ll be hard to see on the, the video here on the penguin cam, but they actually have a brood patch. So it’s a split in so that’s what will keep those eggs warm the entire time.
Just like an emperor penguin holds an egg on its foot, and it’s wrapped, it’s engulfed in their, their own basically their bellies. Um, the same thing happens with Adélie penguins. So the eggs are being kept warm.
The what, the bad part about blizzards and kind of the aftermath of blizzards is when that snow melts, if it melts in an entirely colony area, we do see a lot of nests and colony areas that get flooded.
[Video: Main view moves to show water, then zooms out to show Palmer Station, the water, and the shore of Torgersen Island with a group of penguins]
[Hugh] And that’s bad for the eggs.
[Donna] And that is bad. Sometimes you see eggs bobbing. Although if it’s fairly early in the incubation we have actually seen nests that were flooded hatch and raise chicks successfully.
[Hugh] That actually happened this year, is that correct?
[Donna] That did happen this year. Yes it did. So we, we did see quite a few that succeeded despite the blizzards.
[Video: Main view zooms out to show more land and water]
[Hugh] So that’s amazing because you think about the, you know, one of the main jobs of an incubating bird is to keep that egg warm. And this is kind of like, imagine putting an egg into your refrigerator
[Video: Main view zooms in on the water]
[Hugh] and keeping it, you know in ice water for a couple of days or a week and still hatch.
[Video: Main view shows penguins standing on the shore]
[Donna] Right, absolutely. And so they, they do a phenomenal job of making it all work out.
[Hugh] Um, I have a question going back to their foraging behavior or their, their, their life out at sea during the winter
[Video: Main view zooms in closer to penguins]
and that do they spend all their time in the water?
[Donna] Not quite all of their time during winter, not quite all of winter. And they need that sea ice habitat in order to make all of that work. Um, yeah but foraging is, it’s pretty demanding, um, energetically.
[Josh] And that, that happens all winter. There’s not a time that they just sort of go dormant
[Donna] They can’t.
[Josh] trying to get through the winter.
[Donna] No vacation time.
[Hugh] So no hibernating.
[Donna] No hibernating, no vacation. They have to forage for their food every day.
[Hugh] Yeah, so somebody was interested in that, that statistic of 20 percent of chicks surviving, and you know so the question is kind of a, a sad thing to contemplate, but 80 percent of those chicks are probably not gonna make it to adulthood,
[Hugh] and why is that?
[Donna] Uh, mainly the reason for that chick mortality or uh low survival, and that’s true of most species, that the lowest survival is between zero and one. So it’s not specific just to Adélie penguins.
Um but basically if a penguin fledgling is um being fed and provisioned by the parents, and it’s hard for the parents to go out and fill their bellies. Let’s say if they have to go forage a long ways, or if their prey field of the krill and the fish, if they’re
[Video: Brown skua flies over and around the penguins]
very interspersed in the water column, and it takes longer to forage, then those chicks are not gonna gain the weight that they need in order to get out and learn how to swim.
So really it has a lot,
[Video: Main view zooms in closer to penguins]
quite a lot to do with the condition of the penguin chicks as they’re getting ready to fledge and be independent from the nest.
[Hugh] Just wanna answer a couple of questions about just what is it like to live on Palmer Station. So maybe first of all you can say, you know, do you get time to do things for fun, do you miss your family?
[Josh] Sure, um, it’s, it’s very uh, it’s great to be part of the community down here while we’re working. We all get along really, really well. We’re helping each other out. Um, we’re doing the science and at some point you’re, you’re so busy doing that.
You know, it’s very, very long days, you get back, you’re kind of exhausted but there’s still plenty of opportunities to watch movies, to hang out with people in the community. There’s a band that’s formed, so they’re practicing most nights.
Um, but we of course miss our families. We have an internet connection that’s good enough to stream live to you from here, and it’s also good enough for us to keep in touch with our family through emails, through phone calls, through video chats.
Um I can take this opportunity to wish a very happy birthday to my wife, who tomorrow
[Video: Main view moves away from penguins, over the water, and to a rocky area]
turns, I won’t say how old, dear.
[Josh] But, uh yeah, 29.
[Video: Main view zooms out to show more of the land. A penguin walks across.]
[Donna] 29, yeah.
[Josh] Right, 29. Ah and so, yeah, it’s, it’s great to take advantage of that. We miss our families when we’re here, but uh we can stay in touch with them, and you know, we’re always thinking about them and sharing with them the great stuff that we see as we’re here.
[Donna] Right, absolutely.
[Hugh] And Donna.
[Donna] I’ll follow up with what Josh said, which is all true. But also that the, the community here is incredibly important.
[Video: Another penguin walks by]
And I tell people that when we’re home, we parent with intensity. When we’re gone, we’re gone with intensity.
[Video: Another penguin walks by]
And um long days, lots of work, but amazing community.
[Video: Brown skua flies past as two penguins continue walking across the landscape]
And um I can’t emphasize how important it is to um have this kind of structure here which makes it easier for us to do our work, but also we have these amazing field teams.
[Josh nods along as Donna speaks]
Um without them we would not be able to do these jobs because nothing gets done here by yourself. And um, what to do there’s a lot to keep up busy. And yes we miss our families, Christopher, I miss my son. And yeah, it’s a, it’s a great place to be and then when we get home it’s a great place to think about
[Video: Main view moves to show Palmer Station, the water, and the penguins gathered near the shore. A skua flies by.]
and be glad that we were here.
[Hugh] Well great, um. We’re just about at the end of our time here. Um, I wanna say thanks to everybody who watched, and to everybody who sent in your great questions. Um and uh we really enjoyed answering them. And I hope you got to see uh some interesting behavior and feel like you know Adélie penguins a little bit better than you did.
I also definitely want to thank uh the Office of Polar Programs at the National Science Foundation, and the IT staff at Palmer Station, and the bird cams staff at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Um the last thing that we’re gonna do here is uh I think we’re gonna bring the camera around. Are we there?
[Video: Main view adjusts so Palmer Station is in the center, then zooms in on the deck where the scientists are standing]
And we’re just gonna zoom in
[Donna] There you go.
[Hugh] on the upstairs of Palmer Stations GWR building. We hope you can see us, and we just wanna say goodbye, thank you very much.
[Josh] Thank you everyone!
[Cheering and waving]
[Josh] Happy birthday!
[Donna] Good save, Josh.
[Hugh] All right, thank you very much. We, we’ve enjoyed this and uh we will see you next time!
From December 2014 until February 2015, Cornell Lab science editor Hugh Powell was in Antarctica following the work of Project CONVERGE scientists as they studied the food chain that supports everything from phytoplankton to krill to penguins. While there, he hosted two live broadcasts from Palmer Station, Antarctica. Watch them here to meet the penguins and learn from some of the scientists working on the other side of the world.