The Researchers

Solving the mystery of krill's AGE


For many years, scientists have been studying marine animals and applied different methods for age assumption without any luck. “Despite more than 50 years of research, it has not been possible to accurately access the age structure of krill populations or to estimate their natural longevity.”


Raouf Kilada, a passionate diver and marine scientist, stumbled upon this field when he was concluding his master’s degree program on clams in the coral reef. “These species can be less than 20 cm in size, but they can reach up to 300 years. To study this field was an exciting challenge. I had to find it out how to determine the age of species like shrimp, lobster and crabs.”


Raouf Kilada

Raouf Kilada

This quest took him to Canada where together with his fellow scientists, So Kawaguchi, Robert A. King, Christian S. Reiss, Tsuyoshi Matsuda and Taro Ichii, he made revolutionary discoveries in this field. They could determine the age of crustaceans by counting rings in hidden-away internal spots in those animals.


“We developed a method that is based on counting the annual pattern of bands in the eyestalks of shrimp. In lobsters and crabs, the rings were found in the parts of the stomach. That way we could determine the absolute age of these animals.”


Before their discovery to determine the age of a lobster for example, scientists would study its size and other variables. It was an unreliable source of information because, for instance, lobsters go through a molting period and shed their calcified body parts that have any information about them.


In 2015, Kilada and his team of scientists received a grant from AWR to develop this methodology further and apply it to krill. But there was a bump on the road with testing this on krill. It is much smaller and more fragile to research. “We had to validate that one ring of the krill’s eyestalk is one year. Luckily Kawaguchi had the biggest aquarium in the world where he was growing krill. Some of his krill were up to five years old.” “The consistent counts across his and other laboratories supported the hypothesis that bands in eyestalks were accurate independent of the krill’s molting frequency.”


They have started on phase two of this project and will be collecting krill from different areas in the Antarctic region to compare their ecology, age structure, and survival rate.


Krill is an important part of the ecosystem of the Antarctic region, but why is it so important to know its age?

“Krill is the ecosystem of the Antarctic, but krill ecology is more and more affected by the climate change and the reduction in sea ice cover. It is critical to determine the variability in growth, areas and time of krill to understand how it responds to future climate change.”


Kilada explains that this information is especially crucial for managing krill fisheries. If they are fishing in the areas with young krill population, it can threaten the further growth of krill and the rest of the ecosystem.


How do climate change and the rising temperature affect the krill?

“Female krill have to stick their eggs on the lower surface of the ice mass in order to hatch. Our hypothesis is that if the temperature increases, it leads to that krill females need to carry eggs for longer distances since there is less ice.”


“There are two scenarios – the eggs will die, or hatch in different unfavorable conditions so the growth will be affected by for example malnutrition. That’s why by knowing the age of the krill one can secure the sustainability of the krill in the Antarctic region.”


Kilada is currently starting his research lab in Halifax in Eastern Canada. He is going to work further on this topic with governments, universities, and industries. Kilada is focusing on krill in California, red king crab from Norway, and other species.



Studying 10 000 KRILL per CUBIC metre


Krill are incredibly tiny animals. They are, at most, only six centimeters long, weigh up to two grams, and can live for up to six years. But despite their humble size they are a key component of the Southern Ocean ecosystem. The species is a major part of the diet of many predators, including fish, squid, seals, seabirds and penguins and whales. In addition, they are a part of commercial fishery and play a role in the carbon cycle.

How can we study such a small and an important animal? Sally Thorpe knows how. She is an ecosystem modeler at the British Antarctic Survey. In 2016, she and her colleagues got a grant from the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund to research krill retention, dispersal and behavior.

As she explains, they are planning to employ mathematical models of ocean circulation and sea ice, in conjunction with data collected on krill.

“Yes, krill are small, but they form dense swarms that may have more than 10 000 krill per metre-cubed of water. We can see these swarms in acoustic systems used on research ships and fishing vessels. Through the acoustic systems, we map swarms and get an estimate of the distribution and biomass of krill,” says Dr. Sally Thorpe.

They are using data from ocean and sea ice models to investigate why krill are found where they are and how the distribution is likely to vary over time. They will use krill distribution data from krill fishery vessels and data from satellite tags on predators like penguins to check their model results. They are currently analyzing the results, which will hopefully give more insight into a region increasingly affected by climate change.

“More research on krill will help us to see what is going on in the present day. That way we are better placed to consider the impacts of climate change in this region.”

This kind of research is also important for krill fisheries and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which are responsible for manages and regulates them.

“CCAMLR is using an ecosystem approach to protect the Southern Ocean ecosystem from the impacts arising from the fishing. This requires knowledge of the controls on the distribution and abundance of krill, which is where our research fits in.”

“By improving the understanding of the regional and local-scale processes that influence the distribution of krill in one of the main krill fishing areas, the South Orkney Islands region, we hope to help inform the development of management procedures.”

Want to study the Antarctica? 4 scientists share their best tips

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Oceanographer Sally Thorpe had wanted to visit Antarctica since she was little.

“I was interested in geography and the environment, so I took Environmental Sciences degree. It let me study a range of different subjects including physical oceanography which I loved.”

After that, Thorpe was presented with the opportunity to complete a PhD in physical oceanography with fieldwork in the Antarctic.

“This opportunity seemed tailor-made and led to multiple cruises in the Southern Ocean and to my current job with the British Antarctic Survey.  It still seems too good to be true!”

These days, she works on a project studying krill distribution made possible by a grant from the Antarctica Wildlife Research fund.

Her career advice to aspiring scientists is simple – you have to try many things before you find your passion.

“Try and find out about as many different science areas as possible while doing your degree. Take a variety of modules where possible, go to seminars by visiting scientists, do field trips if they’re on offer. Work out what it is that you’re really interested in and go from there.”

She adds: “Don’t fear math! It is so useful in so many different subjects.”

Get an overview

Ari Friedlaender, associate professor at the Oregon State University, studies the movement patterns and foraging behaviors of the largest krill predators - humpback whales.

Friedlander’s advice to young scientists who want to research Antarctica is to get an overview of previous research related to the region.

“We can tell a lot about whales, but you also have to understand how the whole ecosystem works. It is important to take advantage of what other people have done in the region before and what they plan on doing. It is critical in science.”

Good work equals new opportunities

Christian S. Reiss at the US National Marine Fisheries Service, recommends young scientists do their best to pursue exciting opportunities.

“Science is an individual pursuit. It is about how you creatively think about the world, you follow an interest and you end up places where you would never have thought and take opportunities as they come up. Those opportunities arise from doing good work.”

Get out there

Mingshun Jiang, an oceanographer and research associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, like Reiss, stumbled onto this field by accident. Jiang grew up in China and didn’t see the ocean until he was in his twenties. He never imagined the ocean would later become an important part of his life and career.

“My background is in mathematics, and I had little knowledge in the field of oceanography when I was in college. One of my mentors at the university had been working in the Antarctic for a long time, and this is how I started working in this area,” says Jiang.

He advises young scientists to go where the subject of their research is.

“Spend more time in the ocean. Nowadays we have computers and models that can tell you pretty much anything. However, we still must be out there, observe and measure in the environment we are researching.”

Understanding krill

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“Krill is a phenomenal animal and has a very complicated life cycle and dynamics. We need to understand the biology, chemistry and physics around what affects the krill behaviour,” says Mingshun Jiang, oceanographer and associate research professor at Florida Atlantic University.

In 2016, he and Christian S. Reiss of the US National Marine Fisheries Service were awarded a grant from the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund to study Antarctic krill.


Why is it important to research krill?

“Krill are eaten by whales, penguins, fish, and krill eats the plankton and the smaller animals. So, the energy they concentrate by eating the plankton is transferred through the whole food chain, which makes them a fundamental link in the food web of the Antarctic,” says Reiss.

The marine ecosystem around the Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing significant changes, including reduction in sea ice cover. These changes impact the entire ecosystem, including krill.

“It is important to study krill's response to these changes and how it affects species dependent on krill. Will they become abundant because of the fewer krill? How many krill can the Southern Ocean support? Those are some of the big science questions when it comes to krill research,” says Reiss.

Research on krill is also relevant for krill fisheries. However, as Jiang adds, it is vital to research krill for “pure scientific curiosity.”


What are the main goals with your research?

“We try to understand a fundamental question of how important are the physics of the environment in the Antarctic and linkages between different species in the ecosystem. The first thing we are doing is understanding and describing the distribution and movements of krill, its behavior, the potential effects predators and fishing have on krill,” says Reiss.

“The basis of these is studying the so-called connectivity and retention of krill, which describe how krill populations are connected and the sources and export of krill in a particular area”, adds Jiang.

The results of this research will help fisheries develop more sustainable practices and design strategy to protect this fragile ecosystem.

“The krill fisheries are concentrating on small areas. The question is how much it is possible to fish in those areas without removing krill faster than they replenish and without impacting the predators,” says Reiss.

In order to address these questions, the scientists are using more than 15 years of data collected by Reiss and his colleagues.

Jiang has developed a high resolution numerical model to better understand the spatial patterns of krill connectivity and retention.

“This model is called Lagrangian tracking. We can track the krill movement, which assume krill are particles that move with waters, but also capable of moving up and down by themselves.”

Output from simulations and this model will be available for public access and can be used by other scientists.

A Passion for Humpback Whales

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Ari Friedlaender, associate researcher at University of California Santa Cruz, always knew he wanted to be a scientist.

“I grew up in a family of academics near the ocean. In childhood, I spent all my time at the beach, exploring, collecting and counting things and making lists of what I saw.”

He became an ecologist and has visited the Antarctic region every year for the past 20 years to research marine mammal. 2016 was no exception. He and David W. Johnston of Duke University went together to study the movement patterns and foraging behaviours of the largest krill predators - humpback whales. This project was conducted as part of a grant from the Antarctic Wildlife Research Fund (AWR). Their research may provide crucial insight into how climate change could impact the region’s fragile ecosystem.

“Climate changes lead to reductions in the extent and duration of seasonal sea ice cover. These changes impact the demography and ecology of the krill and the predators that rely on krill as their primary prey.”

Friedlaender explains that humpback whales live in open water, and their habitat space is expanding.

“The population of the humpback whales is going absolutely through the roof. They have an opportunity to feed for the longer period of the season and there is almost none or little competition for the resources.”

However, the situation is entirely the opposite for tiny krill.

“Krill require sea ice for their survival. Previous research shows that there is alink between the amount of the sea ice you have in the winter time and how many krill will survive till the next season.” 

Humpback whales need high densities of krill, which are also an important food source for the penguins and the seals. So far, Friedlander and Johnston’s findings show that whales seek areas with the most krill available.

“In summertime whales are spread over the big area, however during the fall this area becomes smaller and smaller. Eventually the whales are concentrated in bays close to shore. The same goes for krill. By the end of the season all the whales and all the krill are in this aggregated area.”

The challenge, however, is that krill fisheries are also attracted to these same areas. A fishery can efficiently scoop up all the krill in an area, practices that are far from sustainable and can negatively impact the whole ecosystem.

“That’s why this kind of research can help fisheries to manage resources properly and operate on a level that doesn’t have a huge impact on the amount of the krill that is available.”

In order to study whales, scientists attach electronic tags to the animals. Depending on the type of tag, scientists can monitor whales from several days to many months. Throughout his career, Friedlaender has helped develop this type of tag technology to better understand the underwater movements and behaviors of marine mammals. In addition to electronic tags, he uses drones to take pictures of whales on the surface.

“We take pictures of the whales on the surface, and can study the length and width and the rate of change when those animals put on the weight. It gives a picture of how they behave at different times of the season and what periods and areas are critical for growth.”

Pictures of whales serve another purpose as well. Friedlaender and his fellow scientists use social media to increase awareness and understanding of the whales, the krill and the ecosystem in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Humpback whales put on a show

Conducting research in the Antarctic is extremely interesting as every day brings obstacles and special encounters with both the physical environment or the biology that surrounds us.

For example in recent cruise we saw nature revealed in two amazing ways. In the Bransfield Strait we were collecting krill and moving along from station to station. Towards the afternoon, as we approached a station to begin sampling, a Humpback whale began to swim near the ship. Within 20 minutes we were amazed to see more and more Humpback whales arrive and begin spy hopping, tail flapping and diving under the ship. As more and more scientists and crew went to the deck to observe these whales (all ideas about sampling immediately suspended) the whales also seemed to become more animated as if they were as excited to see us as we were to see them. This response has been described by many people but it never ceases to amaze.
During the same cruise we endured the awesome power of the physical environment when storms arrived. Winds in the Antarctic during summer are usually relatively low except when storms come through. In this particular year, after seeing the power of the biggest animals on the planet, the barometer started a frightening decline with a corresponding increase in the winds and waves. What looked like a normal storm continued to increase in intensity such that we tried to shelter in Deception Island, the famous caldera that has been used as shelter for a hundred years. Rather than declining, the winds continued to intensify and  the captain, who tried many times to anchor within the bay to no avail, finally drove the bow of the ship onto the forgiving volcanic sand shores and kept the propellers and the engine engaged. We stayed attached to the beach for several hours while the storm passed.

By the next morning, a bright sun, calm winds and declining seas enabled us to get back to work, wondering why we are fortunate to see and experience such amazing beauty and power in such different ways.

Less concentrated pressure on penguins


Extreme mobility of fur seals equal less concentrated pressure on penguins during breeding season

There was a strong El Nino this year, a climactic event that can dramatically change the weather patterns in the areas which we work.  Compared to my previous (non El-Nino) field season, the mortality rate in chicks was considerable due to strong cold winds and large amounts of snow and sub-zero temperatures, leading to many adult penguins simply abandoning their nests and heading to sea.  Unfortunately, this also included a number of our instrumented birds, resulting in the loss of the devices and the data they contained.  However, we managed to describe Chinstrap and Adelie penguin foraging behavior during the breeding season for a second season.  These data are critical in seeing how unpredictable climactic events such as El Nino impact breeding penguin foraging ecology, and in turn how these events must be considered when managing the krill fishery.  

We had expected that the fur seals would conduct at-sea feeding trips in the waters around the South Orkneys, and had hoped to be able to see the overlap between the seals and penguins, to determine whether the seasonal influx of male fur seals competed with and put stress on penguins already having to work hard to feed hungry chicks.  Some seals did, however a large proportion of the instrumented seals moved further south and west, travelling over 1,000km down the west Antarctic Peninsula as far as Adelaide Island.  This extreme mobility of fur seals means that the ecological pressure exerted on krill stocks is spread across the entire region, overlapping with commercial fishing areas and penguin breeding colonies throughout the peninsula.  The seal transmitters will continue to provide data for many months, allowing us to look in-depth at how adult male fur seals spend their time between breeding seasons.

Working with the whales

Photo: One Ocean Expedition

Photo: One Ocean Expedition

Every year, month, week, and day in Antarctica is different. From year to year the whole timbre of the landscape can change with the ice conditions. From day to day the weather can turn on a dime and turn a peaceful and tranquil vista into a dark and wind-battered curtain of snow. Through it all, the animals that make this place home weather the storm and we must do the same.  
Working with whales requires an ingredient list that would rival a witches brew. We need to have whales, whales behaving in a manner that allows us to get close to them, daylight, calm seas, little wind, a platform to work from, etc.  When these things all line up we have to be ready to take advantage of the time and work efficiently.  Once these elements come together we focus our efforts.
This morning, we have calm seas, fair winds and a glorious display of morning light filling the sky at 4 am.  The horizon is peppered with the blows of humpback whales, the 20 foot-tall columns of vaporized water hanging above the sea for a few seconds offers evidence of where the whales were.  At least 15-20 on a quick scan from the bridge of the ship. This is the perfect opportunity for us to work. I prepare our biopsy gear, satellite and suction cup tags and assemble the team for an early morning on the water. We talk about our goals; we would like to deploy a multi-sensor suction cup recording tag to understand the fine-scale movement and foraging patterns of the whales for 24 hours, deploy a long-term satellite tag that will show us the movement patterns of the animal throughout the entire feeding season, and collect a number of biopsy samples that will elucidate the population from which these whales came as well as if they are male or female.
From the small inflatable boat, I direct the driver from a pulpit that sits above the pontoons and always be a slightly higher view from which to see the whales and a platform to lean out just enough to tag the animals. We find a number of animals bubble-net feeding, creating spiraling circles of bubbles underwater to concentrate or aggregate the krill and then lunging up through the center with mouths agape to feed on the small crustaceans. When the whales do this, it is obvious where they are likely to come up and once they do, they are trapped at the surface for half a minute while they sift all of the water out of their mouths before going down once again for another foraging bout. We slowly approach a bubble net as it forms at the surface and when the whales come up, we idle in their direction. I communicate with the driver where the whales are and where we need to position ourselves to place the suction cup tag on the whale’s back.  When it arches to dive, the whale shows us a fine piece of real estate and with a gentle thwack, I place the tag on the whale.  The tag sits at the end of a 25-ft carbon fiber pole that looks like a giant magic wand and it does not take much effort to place the tag on. As soon as the tag is deployed my graduate student collects a small skin and blubber biopsy sample using a crossbow and customized tip that takes a small sample about the size of a pencil eraser.  
Once the tag is deployed we can listen for it with a VHF antenna and receiver. Whenever the tag is above the surface (either on the whale or once it has fallen off and floats) we hear a signal and can keep track of the whale’s location. We spend the rest of the morning following the blows in the early morning air and collecting biopsy samples. The tag will stay on the whale for about 24 hours and then fall off. When it does, we use the tracking gear to locate it and retrieve it. The data are stored on the tag so we have to get it back in order to get the data. When we do it is a flurry of downloading, running code, and generating figures. Our tag is out now, on a humpback whale maneuvering through the icy depths.  When we retrieve it, we will see the motion of the whale, count how many times, where, and when it feeds and how these massive ocean giants make a living in the Antarctic.

Step by step, penguin by penguin

Photo: Frank Grebstad

Photo: Frank Grebstad

Unlike the first trip to Powell Island that revolved around instrumenting penguins, we are now tasked with working on Antarctic fur seals, the pygoscelid penguins (Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo’s) and southern elephant seals. Consequently, our days are naturally varied, as the work we are able to do is dictated by the weather conditions.  I shall go through in increasing order of complexity the processes by which we collect data on these animals

Southern Elephant seals:

Step #1: approach the front of a sleeping 500-1,500kg adult male elephant seal with a pair of tweezers

Step #2: secure tweezers around one whisker, and pluck.

Step #3: move backwards very quickly as the (now wide-awake) elephant seal wonders what the hell you are doing.

Simple.  But it is a test of nerve to walk up to an enormous animal with very large teeth armed with nothing but tweezers.  However, the information we get from the whisker is considerable; using chemicals that are deposited in the whisker as it grows, we are able to determine what and when (to within a few months) the animal ate.  This is crucial information, as these animals spend over 9 months a year at sea and are therefore extremely hard to observe.

Penguins (all):

Step #1: Pick up a penguin.  Preferably not an angry one, but calm ones are quite rare.

Step #2: Attach transmitters to the back of the penguin (GPS and dive recorders, both combined are about the size of a small box of matches).  This requires a small amount of superglue, some waterproof tape and is generally completed in under a few minutes.

Step #3: Release for 5-10 days

Step #4: Recapture the penguin (by spending many hours stood freezing next to a penguin colony until it decides to come back home, then run around like an idiot trying to catch something that can outsprint you and is only 40cm tall).

Step #5: Remove the devices

Step #6: Repeat at least 40-50 times on individuals from each species throughout the two month period, so you cover the three stages of breeding (egg incubation, chick care and chick fledging)

When the penguin is recaptured we also take a small blood sample, to help us describe what the individual ate during its foraging trip using the same chemical markers as found in the elephant seal whiskers.  The information from the blood combined with the location data forms a very powerful dataset telling us where and on what the penguin ate at very fine scales.

Post-breeding male Antarctic fur seals

Instrumenting these animals is the most complicated procedure we do, and consequently required the best weather conditions – why will become very apparent.

Step #1: select a suitably-sized (sleeping) adult male fur seal, weighing between 100-200kg.  At a distance of 20-30m, use a dart gun to remotely-inject the animal with a sedative.  Allow 5-10minutes for the drug to take effect before approaching the animal.

Step #2: approach with a portable gas anesthesia machine, a capture net and a very large stick.  Hopefully, if you have given the correct (weight-determined) dosage the animal will be sufficiently sedated that you can simply place the anesthetic mask on and maintain the level of anesthesia.  If you haven’t, then you have a bit of a struggle with a very unhappy seal, a net, and three grown men trying to physically restrain the animal and complete the sedation.  In very cold weather, the gaseous anesthetic would not vaporize efficiently, so we were unable to work.

Step #3: once the animal is sufficiently immobilized, including a comprehensive set of health checks (to ensure the plane of anesthesia is not too deep, that the animal is not suffering respiratory distress), we can move onto instrumentation.  A two-part epoxy glue is mixed and a “footprint” of glue the size of the base of the transmitter is applied to the back of the seal, between the two foreflippers.  The instrument is then glued in place on the back, and the glue allowed to set (which can take up to 45 minutes if the air temperature is cold enough).  While the glue is setting, a whisker is clipped from the face of the animal and a blood sample taken from its hind flipper.

Step #4: after the procedure is complete, the anesthesia is stopped and the animal allowed to recover.  We watch the animal until it has completely recovered, as other males nearby tend to like picking fights and we must protect the instrumented individual until it is capable of defending itself.  One procedure can take up to two hours to complete, and you can’t relax for a second.  We had 30 animals to instrument, so this was by far the most intense of our activities.

Being a field ecologist requires you to be able to adapt and modify equipment and procedures based on the conditions you experience, and to have the common sense and experience to know when not to push it. In spite of how simple my outlines appear, it’s an intensely complicated set of procedures we have to perform – all the time remembering these are wild animals and that we need to keep disturbance levels to a minimum.  The weather doesn’t make things any easier, with at best not working optimally and at worst simply not bothering to work at all. No two sets of circumstances are the same, and to paraphrase, “the only easy day was yesterday”

Room with a view

Photo: One Ocean Expeditions

Photo: One Ocean Expeditions

Working in polar regions, especially during summer, can be a challenge.  While life on a modern research ship is comfortable, the everlasting days and lack of night time can drain you.  With nearly constant daylight, the opportunity to search for whales and work with them never ends.  As well, the evening and early morning light are magical and one can’t help but be entranced in the pastels and vibrant colors beaming from the horizon while the sun scrapes just below it for a few minutes.

Our research vessel, the ARSV Laurence M Gould, hosts about 25 scientists and nearly that many more officers and crew.  The ship is active 24 hours a day and scientific teams generally are split into two shifts, each for 12 hours.  My team, however, is on call whenever it is light out, whenever there are whales around, and whenever we have the opportunity.  When the ship is in transit between oceanographic sampling stations, we maintain a watch on the bridge to log sightings: species, group size, location, behavior, etc.  If we come across an unusually large number of animals in a small area or have time before the next station is to occur, we take the opportunity to deploy our RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) to collect biopsy samples and deploy satellite tags.  Spending so much time on the bridge, we see all of the wonders of the Antarctic as they pas by; sea birds, seals, penguins, ice bergs, mountains, etc.  You begin to get a feel for the environment and where the whales are likely to be found.

Maintaining a schedule is important on the ship to create a sense of stability.  Meals are pretty early and the ships are well stocked with fresh foods that last for about three weeks.  After that…things become a bit more routine and less exciting.  But the galley crew do a wonderful job of keeping us well fed and healthy!  Our cabins are small but comfortable, all have bunk beds and a private bathroom with shower.  Two scientists to a cabin, a small desk and storage space for personal gear and clothes.  Most other things remain in our labs and working space.  A porthole lets us see the passing world.  It is critical to be able to shut it though and block out the constant light and sleep in darkness.  Routine is important, and on the ship we have a small gym and comfortable lounge where people can watch movies on a big TV.  There is also a satellite phone to call home and keep in touch, as well as email.  While all of the amenities help to maintain a sense of being in touch, the Antarctic is so unique that you find yourself failing to explain and express the place to friends and family in words or images.

As the whales we work with are not on a schedule or found at known locations, we work whenever they are around regardless of the time.  I average about 4 hours of sleep a day with an occasional nap.  It isn’t sustainable for more than a month or so, but well worth it!  Each evening we put together a science plan for the following day that includes, to the best of our ability, the times and locations of where we will be.  In all of my time in the Antarctic, rarely does a plan accurately forcast what we will do the next day.  The Antarctic has a way of making you change your plans constantly to adapt to the changing conditions and opportunities.

One third of the team arriving in Antarctica

During our research we are aboard research vessels. This year I was aboard the British ship the James Clark Ross. This is a world class research vessel that has berths for more than 20 scientists and laboratory spaces to conduct all manner of research. The heart of the research operations on this ship is the UIC. The underway instrumentation and control room. This is the nerve center of the science where all data streams are visualized so that decisions regarding the science program can be made. From this room, winches and deck gear can be operated allowing the sampling to be monitored. On the deck, scientists will deploy a variety of gear over the stern of the ship with the help of an excellent deck crew, all under the careful watch of the Bridge.

In general, aboard research vessels work is conducted 24 hrs a day so that people are always on shifts. Aboard the James Clark Ross this year I worked from 4 AM to 4 PM which took some adjustment! My work this cruise consisted of running acoustic data collection for krill, sampling the water properties using an instrument called the CTD, that measures temperature, salinity, oxygen, chlorophyll-s and the clarity of the water. Additionally water samples were collected for other collaborators that’ were conducting other studies in conjunction this cruise. My colleagues on the night watch also sampled krill, mesopelagic fish and conducted studies on krill swarms to better understand the acoustic properties of krill in swarms. The collection of samples was limited to night-time to minimize avoidance of animals to the net, and to capture animals that vertically migrate into the upper water column at night.

One of the best parts of being on a cruise is the food, especially when the cooks are great. I was fortunate on the James Clark Ross as all the meals were wonderful. And the one perk of getting up at 4 am is that I was able to eat all three meals, breakfast lunch and dinner. The mealtimes are also important times to exchange information with the officers and other scientists so are valuable from the scientific perspective.  On this cruise I was berthed in a small but comfortable to person room. And, because we didn’t have a large number of scientists, there was no other person in the bunk. This was helpful in providing a private space away from everyone, necessary when you are all on the same 100m boat!

Life at sea is regimented, and is very repetitive. The close proximity to others provides an opportunity to interact closely with people and see the world in a very unique and special way. The two best days at sea are often the day you leave port and begin the journey, and the day you return to port and can share the experiences with others.

The world's largest natural refrigerator

Moving into the world's largest natural refrigerator

This is my second time to Powell Island, my first visit being two years ago.  I came here with preconceived ideas about how it would be, where I would find animals and how they would react – all based on what I had learnt during my first field season here.  However, fate (in the shape of one of the strongest El Nino Southern Oscillation events in years) decided it would be otherwise. This time the bay wasn’t full of ice, so the landing craft could put us closer to our campsite and the three of us could avoid the slow, painful process of walking backwards and forwards over a 200m stretch of beach carrying a couple of tons of equipment, food and water.  God, Buddah or the Great Pumpkin in the Sky decided to give us clear skies and calm winds which allowed us to secure tent guy lines, dig in valances and generally set up the tents properly, in preparation for the inevitable howling winds, horizontal snow and generally unpleasant weather that often swings by this neighborhood. Also, I could have sworn that the expression on the penguins faces as they waddled by our mountain of equipment was one of “seriously – you lot again ?”.

Our campsite consists of three tents; one to cook in and two for sleeping.  The cook tent is a British Antarctic Survey “pyramid” (which I keep referring to as a “teepee”, just to wind up the Brits) in which three of us would spend sometimes days trying to keep out of the weather and remember what conversation felt like.  The surface area of the tent is around 3m x 2m, and unless you are a midget you are constantly bent over double (at best) or on your knees (at worst) for the entire trip.  This is NOT a job for people who treasure the cartilage in their joints.  The sleeping tents fall into two categories; one is a three-person “teepee” which houses two people, the inside temperature of this tent reached a record 2oC, and given its enormous size the two occupants had ample space to spread out.  The other tent was mine, considerably smaller, and tended to change shape a lot depending on the strength and direction of the wind.  On particularly windy days (30-40knots and above) it resembled being inside a gigantic bag of chips while someone shook it around.  Not only is this not a job for those with joint issues, it is not appropriate for light sleepers.  My tent is not the same size as the enormous skyscraper that the other two are in; it reminds me of moving into a tiny apartment and wondering “how the hell am I going to fit all this (scientific/personal gear for 2 months) into here (a small tent 2m x 1m) ?”.  But you do, and you become remarkably efficient and stowing things away.

Antarctica is the world’s largest natural refrigerator, thus we were able to carry enough “fresh” food into the field camp to last us the first month.  The kitchen and associated cooking is rudimentary, with a paraffin stove and two pans being sufficient for our needs.  The Panasonic breadmaker with automatic nut dispenser and pasta-making menu options sat in the corner of the cooking tent is so out-of-place that you could be excused for thinking you were hallucinating.  However, when combined with a small 800W petrol generator, the production of fresh bread and apple and cinnamon cake is crucial for both morale and the consumption of bacon.  Toilet facilities include the world’s largest naturally-powered flushing toilet (the ocean) which can be an invigorating experience when surprised by seals and/or penguins rocketing out of the water next to you, or when the wind is so strong it drives snow into places it really shouldn’t go into.

We work on UTC (which is 3 hours ahead of local time) as the telemetry devices we fit to animals are calibrated to this time zone. So we settle into our routine. Now it’s time to go to work.