2017-18 AMLR Cape Shirreff Studies

Every austral summer, the US AMLR Program conducts predator studies at the Cape Shirreff field station on Livingston Island.  Each week, the field research team sends updates on their work.  The reports from the 2017-2018 season are provided below.


Sit Rep #15: 5 February 2018

Seabirds:

  1. This week we are riding a wave of crèching, in which the penguin chicks grow large enough to be left unattended by the adults. Peak crèche for gentoo penguins was on Jan 31st. Out of 50 reproductive success nests, 2 are still brooding one chick, 36 nests have crèched and 12 have failed. From the 23 known-age nests we have found, 1 nest is still brooding one chick, 18 nests have crèched and 4 have failed.
  2. Chinstrap penguins are a few days behind but are very close to their own peak crèche date. It will most likely be today (Feb 5). From the 98 reproductive success nests, 22 nests are still brooding one chick, 19 nests are brooding two chicks, 40 nests have crèched and 17 have failed. Out of the 13 known-age nests we have found this season, 2 are brooding one chick, 1 is brooding two chicks, 4 have crèched and 6 have failed. All chicks from known-age nests, both gentoos and chinstraps, have been banded.
  3. We deployed four GPS/TDR pairs on gentoo penguins on Feb 1, to be retrieved on Feb 5, to monitor foraging behaviors and locations during the crèche period. Four GPS/TDR pairs will be deployed on chinstrap penguins in the next few days.
  4. We have concluded sampling diets for this season. Twenty diet samples were collected for each gentoo and chinstrap penguins. The samples for chinstrap penguins were almost entirely composed of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), while those collected from gentoo penguins were predominantly fish. In gentoo samples, we have also found squid, arthropods and one small octopus. From all 40 samples, we measured a total of 1,047 krill. Of these, 66% were male, 29% were female and 5% were juveniles. Average krill size from chinstraps was 42.4mm and 45.6mm from gentoos. Four hundred and sixty-one otoliths were collected.
  5. This week we’ve completed two deployments of a video logger, coupled with a time-depth recorder to capture diving behavior. The first was on a gentoo male (Jan 30-31) and the second was on a chinstrap female (Feb 1-2). Both deployments lasted one day, and captured video of afternoon trips at sea. The underwater footage coupled with TDR dive data can give especially detailed insight into foraging strategies and food availability at sea. While the footage is currently being pored over by the field crew, it has yet to undergo formal analysis.
  6. Cape Sheriff has hosted a couple of unusual visitors in recent days. A king penguin was first seen on Jan 29, and sighted roaming in various spots throughout the cape consistently for five days. It was last seen on Feb 2 around main camp. On Feb 2 and Feb 4 we spotted a macaroni penguin near the colonies.
  7. We continue to check skua territories every 4 days. Most skuas have hatched and the chicks are starting to develop pinfeathers. Six pairs are raising one chick, two have two chicks, one territory has relayed and is sitting on one egg and 15 have failed. We have begun banding the chicks and will continue this effort this coming week.

Pinnipeds:

  1. We continue to resight and monitor 12 of our original 26 mother-pup attendance study pairs.
  2. We recovered two TDR instruments from attendance study females. There are five TDR instruments still deployed on females.
  3. We deployed and recovered a Little Leonardo video logger on one of the fur seal attendance study females, and got 6 hours of video footage. We have now deployed the video logger a second time on a different attendance study female. Based upon previous trip durations of this female we expect to recover it today.
  4. On 3 February we conducted our third round of CCAMLR pup weights. The mean mass of female pups was 11.6 (n=43, range=8.0-14.8, s.d.=1.6) and the mean mass of male pups was 13.9 (n=57, range=9.1-17.4, s.d.=2.0).
  5. We are in the midst of our 7th week of scat collection for fur seal diet analysis. Most scats collected so far have contained krill, and several have contained fish and/or squid.
  6. During the weekly phocid census conducted on 2 February, we observed 25 Weddell seals, 320 southern elephant seals, 13 leopard seals, and zero crabeater seals.
  7. We tagged one leopard seal this week, bringing our season total to six tags deployed.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. Two mission flights were conducted over chinstrap penguin colonies in support of the wildlife response study. Two more mission flights were conducted over chinstrap penguin colonies for periphery mapping. Another mission flight was conducted over a leopard seal for photogrammetry for a total of five flights this week.

Weather:

  1. Cape weather for the first week of February included mostly overcast skies with intermittent fog and rain. The average temperature was 2.2°C with a high of 5.7°C and a low of 0.0°C. Wind direction changed frequently from East to West with an average of 12.8mph, and the wind chill average to -2.2°C with a low of -6.8°C. Total precipitation was 0.59 inches, and the average solar radiation was lower this week with a mean daily of 11739W/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. We scraped, sanded, and caulked the emergency hut/bird blind in preparation for exterior painting as weather permits.
  2. The exterior walls of the freshies room were sanded and caulked in preparation for paint. A hole in one of the walls from wood rot requires patching and repair before painting can be completed.

Camp Life:

  1. In celebration of Groundhog Day we had a movie night.
  2. We celebrated another birthday this week.


Sit Rep #14: 29 January 2018

Seabirds:

  1. Both chinstrap and gentoo penguins are still brooding chicks, just barely beginning to crèche. This week we took the last 21-day chick weights for both species. Out of the 98 chinstrap nests we follow for reproductive success, 30 are brooding one chick, 49 are brooding two chicks, 18 have failed and one nest has crèched. From the 13 known-age chinstrap nests, 5 are brooding one chick, 2 are brooding two chicks, and 6 have failed. No known-age chinstrap nests have crèched yet. Five chicks of known-age birds have been banded so far.
  2. Out of the 50 nests we follow for gentoo reproductive success, 19 are brooding one chick, 19 are brooding two chicks, and 12 have failed. None have crèched. Out of the 23 known-age gentoo nests we have found, 8 have one chick, 10 have two chicks, 4 have failed and 1 has crèched.
  3. Brown skua territories continue to be monitored. Six territories have one chick, 2 have two, 3 are still on an egg (one of which is currently in the process of hatching) and 13 have failed. We have begun banding skua chicks.
  4. On Jan 26 we ended a third week of skua predation observations. Over 14 hours of observation this week, we saw 2 chicks and 1 egg taken by skuas, all from gentoo penguins, in the West colonies.
  5. Four rounds of diet sampling have been completed for both gentoo and chinstrap penguins, leaving one round for each species to be completed this coming week. Thus far, chinstrap diets have been predominantly krill, while gentoo penguins have been predominantly fishes. A small, intact octopus was also recovered from one gentoo diet this week.

Pinnipeds:

  1. We continue to resight 12 of the mother-pup study pairs daily, as well as one set of twins.
  2. Fifteen fur seal study pups survived through their mother’s sixth trip, and they were weighed one day after their mother departed for their seventh foraging trip to sea. For female pups, the average mass was 10.8 (n=6, range=9.4-12.6, s.d.=1.05) and for male pup is 11.6 (n=9, range=10.5-12.8, s.d.=0.78). The average weight gain from the perinatal period to the completion of the sixth trip was 3.7 kg for female pups and 4.7 kg for male pups.
  3. Of the 26 attendance study females, 17 completed six trips with their pup still alive (two pups died while their mother was on her sixth trip), seven females lost their pups prior to completing six trips, and two females did not return from one of their trips.
  4. We performed our second round of CCAMLR pup weights on January 19 as part of our effort to track fur seal pup growth over the course of the season. The female pups weighed an average of 10.4 kg (n=41, s.e.=0.21) and the male pups weighed an average of 12.0 kg (n-59, s.e.=0.22).
  5. We captured one study fur seal female to recover her Mark 9 TDR after she lost her pup.
  6. We captured and tagged a sub-adult male fur seal who for the past two years has been observed asphyxiating fur seal pups while mounting them. He has not been re-sighted since being tagged.
  7. We deployed two Argos-linked Mk10 GPS instruments on leopard seals as part of a collaborative effort with an NSF-funded project looking at leopard seal over-winter behavior.
  8. We began our sixth week of fur seal scat collection and diet analysis. Almost all samples have contained krill, and a few have also had a small number of otoliths and other fish parts. We have not recorded any scats with squid.
  9. During the phocid census on 26 January, we observed 42 Weddell seals, 319 southern elephant seals, 20 leopard seals, and no crabeater seals.
  10. To date we have tagged five leopard seals, including one seal that has been identified via photos at the Cape for the last three years. We will continue to tag and collect DNA opportunistically for the rest of the season.
  11. On 28 January we re-sighted a blonde sub-adult male fur seal.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. We conducted four mission flights over groups of fur seals in support of the wildlife response study.

Weather:

  1. Weather at the Cape included slightly warmer temperatures overall. The average temperature was 2.8°C with a high of 5.5°C and a low of 1.4°C. Wind largely from the west averaged 10.9 mph bringing the wind chill average to -1.0°C with a low of -4.5°C. Total precipitation was 0.28 inches, and the average solar radiation was lower this week with a mean daily of 11,817 W/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. Before he departed the island on 26 January, Mike completed painting the south wall of the supply hut which had previously been scraped, sanded, washed and primed.
  2. We completed painting and replacing both the exterior and interior trim for both new doors of the main hut.
  3. We scraped and caulked the exterior walls of the Freshies room in preparation for painting.
  4. We also continued scraping and sanding of the Emergency Hut/Bird Blind in preparation for painting.
  5. We started cleaning and organizing the Supply hut in anticipation of inventorying for camp closing in March.

Camp Life:

  1. We had a Chilean air force helicopter visit the Cape at 17:30 26-Jan-2018. It successful transferred Dr. Jefferson Hinke and picked up Dr. Mike Goebel.


Sit Rep #13: 22 January 2018

Seabirds:

  1. Chinstrap penguins are still brooding chicks. We have begun taking 21-day chicks weights from our reproductive success and known-age nests. We haven’t seen any creched chicks yet, but we are expecting it to begin in this coming week. Out of 98 nests we follow for reproductive success, 30 are brooding one chick, 50 are brooding two chicks and 18 have failed. Thirteen known-age chinstrap nests continue to be monitored. Five are brooding one chick, 2 are brooding 2 chicks and 6 have failed.
  2. Gentoo penguins continue to brood chicks. We have just begun 21-day chick weights with gentoos. The first was on Jan 19. Out of 50 nests we follow for reproductive success, 18 are brooding one chick, 22 are brooding 2 chicks and 10 have failed. Out of the 23 known-age nests we follow, 7 are brooding one chick, 12 are brooding two chicks and 4 have failed.
  3. On Jan 15 we deployed 4 GPS/TDR pairs on gentoos in brood phase, and recovered all of them on the morning of the 19th. The data was downloaded and the tags seem to have worked correctly. The deepest gentoo dive we recorded was to 129m, with frequent dives for all birds to 80-90m. The last chinstrap GPS/TDR pair was recovered on Jan 15. The deepest dive we recorded for chinstraps was 72m, with regular dives to 40-50m. We will not be deploying devices on either species until after peak creche.
  4. Brown skuas also continue to raise chicks. Seven territories have one chick, 2 territories have 2 chicks, 3 territories are incubating one egg (two of these were relays) and 12 have failed.
  5. On Jan 20th we began another week of skua predation observations, which will conclude on Jan 26. We have so far seen one chick taken, but yesterday were thwarted by thick fog.
  6. Three rounds of diet sampling have been conducted for chinstrap penguins, and two rounds have been conducted for gentoos. With the help of the pinniped team, we will continue this sampling in the coming weeks to complete 5 rounds for each species.
  7. On Jan 17th a Macaroni penguin was seen on Roquerio beach in a group of chinstraps. On the same day, a fully blonde, leucistic chinstrap was seen below the west colonies.

Pinnipeds:

  1. Of our 26 Antarctic fur seal attendance study mother-pup pairs, 16 seals have completed six trips while 24 seals have completed five trips. One female has completed nine trips, while four have completed eight trips. 
  2. Eighteen of our original 26 fur seal attendance study pups continue to be resighted on a daily basis.  
  3. Eleven study pups have been weighed after their mother completed her sixth trip to sea. For female pups, average mass is 10.5 kg (n=4, s.d. 0.74, range: 9.4-11.0 kg). For male pups, average mass is 11.5 kg (n=7, s.d. 0.87, range: 10.5-12.8 kg).  
  4. To date we have recovered three Mk10 TDRs with Fastloc GPS due to pup loss.
  5. We have completed five of ten weeks of AFS scat collection for diet analysis. The fur seal lab is fully functioning and we are processing the scats as they come in. All week 3-5 scats have been processed.
  6. We captured, tagged, and took samples and measurements from four juvenile Weddell seals this past week.
  7. During the last phocid census on 19 January, we recorded 37 Weddell seals, 335 southern elephant seals, 9 leopard seals, and one crabeater seal.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. Three mission flights over leopard seals in support of the wildlife response study.

Weather:

  1. Weather at the Cape included slightly warmer temperatures overall this week. The average temperature was 2.1ºC with a high of 5.0ºC and a low of 0.7ºC. Wind speed mean was only 9.7mph bringing the wind chill average to -1.6ºC with a low of -5.1ºC. Total precipitation was 0.31 inches and the average solar radiation was lower this week with a mean daily of 11928W/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. We had to replace a broken wind turbine with a back-up to return the wind generators to full capacity.
  2. The interior windows of the main hut were cleaned, caulked, and painted for mold mitigation.
  3. The generator shed fuel trap guard repaired.
  4. The north wall of fur seal lab, south wall of freshies room, and the west half of the south wall of supply hut was scraped to prep for paint. The south wall of the supply hut was painted with primer.
  5. We replaced re-painted exterior molding for the two main hut doors replaced recently.

Camp Life:

  1. We celebrated a birthday with special dinner and apple pie a la mode for dessert.


Sit Rep #12: 16 January 2018

Seabirds:

  1. Penguins at the cape are deep in the throes of chick-rearing. Chinstrap penguins are in brood phase, with chicks quickly growing up. Out of 98 nests we follow for reproductive success, 30 are brooding one chick, 51 are brooding two chicks and 17 have failed. None have creched yet, but we are expecting creche soon. From the 13 known-age chinstrap penguins we have found, 6 are brooding one chick, 2 are brooding two chicks and 5 have failed. None have creched. On Jan 14, the first 21-day chick weights were taken.
  2. Gentoo penguins are also in brood phase. Out of 50 nests we are following for reproductive success, 19 are brooding 1 chick, 22 are brooding 2 chicks and 9 have failed. Out of the 23 known-age gentoo nests, 9 are brooding one chick, 12 are brooding two chicks and 2 have failed. No gentoo chicks have creched yet.
  3. The last of our penguin VHS transmitters were deployed on Jan 13. Twenty total transmitters were deployed on both chinstrap and gentoo penguins. All radios seem to be functioning normally and radio nests are checked daily. We had a large snowstorm on Jan 12, and lost a few chicks from radio nests that were on a ridge, exposed to the worst of the storm.
  4. We have completed one round of device deployments on chinstrap penguins, consisting of four penguins carrying one TDR and one GPS unit each. As of now we have recovered ¾ of the device pairs and are on high alert for the last penguin to return to the colonies. We will deploying four device pairs on gentoos in the coming days.
  5. There have been two rounds of diet sampling on chinstrap penguins and 1 round on gentoo penguins. With the help of the pinniped crew, we will continue to sample diets for each species every 5-7 days in the coming weeks.
  6. Brown skua territories continue to be monitored. Eight pairs have one chick, 2 have two chicks, one pair has relayed and is incubating one egg, one pair is still on two eggs and 11 pairs have failed.
  7. This week we had an unexpected visitor in the western penguin colonies: a king penguin. He was seen all day on Dec 13 but was gone by the next day.

Pinnipeds:

  1. Twenty mother pup pairs remain of the original 26 pairs in our CCAMLR C1 attendance study. Ten females have now completed six trips, seventeen females have completed five trips, and one female has completed eight trips.
  2. We weighed seven of the study pups, two females and five males, after their moms departed on their seventh trip to sea. The male pups averaged 11.5kg (n=5, range=10.5-12.8, s.d.=0.83) and the female pups averaged 10.2kg (n=2, range=9.4-10.9, s.d.=1.06). We continue to resight our 20 study pups daily and did not record any lost to leopard seal predation this week.
  3. We recorded a young fur seal female giving birth on 11 January.
  4. We recovered two TDR instruments this week due to pup loss. Both instruments were Mk10 TDRs with Fastloc GPS, and had been collecting dive data since perinatal captures in early December. Both females had completed four trips to sea before losing their pups.
  5. We have completed processing week three of the ten weekly scats samples for fur seal diet studies. We are processing most of the samples as they are collected. All scats have had krill in them, but several have also had fish otoliths or other bones in them.
  6. We captured, tagged, and collected samples from a Weddell seal pup.
  7. During the weekly phocid census for this past week (13 January), we recorded 272 elephant seals, 30 Weddell seals, nine leopard seals, and one crabeater seal. Leopards are arriving with higher frequency and we recorded our first fully molted leopard this week.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. One suitable weather day allowed for two mission flights over 3 chinstrap penguin colonies, and one practice flight to train Steph on ground station operation.

Weather:

  1. Weather at the Cape included slightly warmer temperatures overall and a brief blizzard from the east last Friday. The average temperature was 1.5°C with a high of 4.0°C and a low of -0.4°C. Wind speed topped out at 56mph during the Friday storm but averaged of 11.9mph bringing the wind chill average to -2.7°C with a low of -8.4°C. Total precipitation was 1.75 inches and the average solar radiation was lower this week with a mean daily of 13,363W/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. We now have the west wall of the supply hut scraped, sanded, primed and prepped for a final coat of paint. Half of the south wall has been scraped and caulked at the base and is now ready for final sanding and primer.
  2. We replaced the Main Hut front door with a new exterior door.
  3. One of our two AirBreeze wind turbines was damaged during sustained high winds on Friday and has been removed from the tower. Once we have some calm weather we will replace it with a back-up turbine.
  4. A mid-season inventory of fuel, water, and staple food items was conducted.

Camp Life:

  1. Mike gave an informative presentation on CCAMLR and the role of Cape Shirreff in Ecosystem Monitoring, plus the importance of long term data sets in understanding climate change and the impact of resource extraction.
  2. We are all looking forward to celebrating a birthday next week of one of our crew. This will be the first of two birthday celebrations this month.


Sit Rep #11: 9 January 2018

Seabirds:

  1. Chinstrap penguins have almost finished hatching. Of the 98 nests we follow for reproductive success, 3 are still hatching, 25 are brooding one chick, 54 are brooding two chicks and 16 have failed. The three nests that have eggs still are unlikely to hatch but have not yet reached the 40-day mark when they are confirmed to be infertile.
  2. We have found 13 known-age chinstrap nests through our daily resighting effort. These are all done hatching. Five of these nests are brooding 1 chick, 3 are brooding 2 chicks and 5 have failed.
  3. On Jan 6, we put out all 20 radio transmitters for chinstrap penguins, and these nests are being monitored daily. We completed our first round of chinstrap diet sampling on the 7th. The samples were entirely made up of krill.
  4. Gentoos are nearing the end of hatch. Gentoo peak hatch was on Jan 3. Of the 50 gentoo nests we follow for reproductive success, 3 nests still have eggs, 6 are hatching, 37 are finished hatching (9 with one chick, 28 with two chicks) and 4 have failed.
  5. Of the 23 known-age gentoo nests we are following, 1 is still hatching, 20 have finished hatching (5 with one chick, 15 with two chicks) and 2 have failed.
  6. Skuas are also in the throes of hatch. Twenty-three territories are active. Of these, 5 have one egg, including one that lost a two-egg clutch and relayed, 4 are incubating a 2-egg clutch, 1 has one chick, 6 have two chicks and 7 have failed.
  7. On Jan 5th we finished a second week of skua predation observations. Throughout 14 stints we saw 6 predation events of skuas taking chicks.
  8. We have seen more adelie penguins at the cape this week. One showed up at Modulo beach during resupply operations, on Jan 2, and another was seen wandering around camp on Jan 5.

Pinnipeds:

  1. This week we had our first female complete six trips (mean trip duration 3.03 days). All females have completed at least three trips.
  2. The post-absorptive mass taken 24 hrs after the mom left on her seventh trip was 11.6kg (male pup). Due to the probable early loss of study pups to leopard predation, we weighed all pups after their moms completed 2-4 trips for calculation of an early season growth rate.
  3. Three study pups have now been lost from our attendance study. We continue to resights the remaining 23 daily.
  4. We completed the first round of CCAMLR pup weights on 4 January, 30 days after the median date of pupping (5 December). We weighed a total of 100 pups.
  5. Of the 83 previously tagged females that returned to the Cape this year, 69 of them gave birth (83.1%). We have sexed and collected DNA from 49 of those pups.
  6. During the last phocid census on 5 January, we recorded 179 elephant seals, 25 Weddell seals, six leopard seals, and zero crabeater seals. The census however was conducted while it was snowing.
  7. This past Saturday we began collecting our third diet sample of Antarctic fur seal scats, and have been processing the scats when we can. All samples so far have been composed of primarily krill.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. We continued our mid-season leopard seal UAS work with a very productive single flight. During this one flight we were able to get photogrammetry photos of three leopard seals and two UAS-leopard seal response data points.

Weather:

  1. Weather for the Cape this week included mostly overcast skies with little precipitation. The average temperature was 0.9°C with a high of 5.2°C and a low of -1.3°C. Wind speed topped out at 30mph with an average of 6.8mph bringing the wind chill average to -2.2°C with a low of -5.5°C. Total precipitation was 0.1 inches and the average solar radiation was lower this week with a mean daily of 14569 W/m2

Camp Maintenance:

  1. The western facing door of the Main Hut was removed and replaced with a new exterior door.
  2. The east wall of the supply hut was scraped, caulked, and primed for exterior paint.

Camp Life:

  1. A Chilean air force (FACH) helicopter delivered Jesse to Cape Shirreff and took Doug to Escudero Base on King George Island to await a flight to Punta Arenas.
  2. The R/V LAURENCE M GOULD arrived at Cape Shirreff around noon on Tuesday, 2 January. Seas were calm and the resupply went smoothly. Dr. Mike Goebel disembarked bringing the Cape human inhabitants to six. Many thanks to the Captain, MPC, the crew and six volunteers that came ashore to help with the resupply.


Sit Rep #10: 1 January 2018 Happy New Year!

Seabirds:

  1. Chinstrap penguins are almost done hatching. Peak hatch was on December 30. Of the 98 nests we monitor for reproductive success, 5 have one egg, 9 have two eggs, 14 are in the process of hatching and 57 have hatched. Thirteen have failed. From the 13 known-age chinstrap nests we have found on our daily resighting effort, 1 have two eggs, 8 have hatched and 4 have failed.
  2. Gentoo penguins are nearing peak hatch. The first gentoo chick in our study nests was seen on December 26. From the 50 nests we follow for reproductive success, 6 have one egg, 26 have two eggs, 8 are in the process of hatching, 5 have finished hatching and 5 have failed. From the 23 known age nests we have found, 1 has one egg, 12 have two eggs, 3 are in the process of hatching, 5 have hatched and 2 have failed.
  3. Brown skuas have begun hatching as well. The first brown skua chick was seen on December 30. Twenty-three territories have been active this season. Of these, 7 have lost the eggs they have laid so far. Five have one egg, 7 have two eggs and 4 are hatching.
  4. On December 26 we conducted the biannual expedition to Punta Oeste, where there are two skua territories beyond our normal study area. We found both territories active, with two eggs in each nest. We caught and banded a previously unbanded territorial female.
  5. In an effort to resight non-breeding known age birds, daily beach sweeps began on December 30.
  6. On December 30 we began a second week of skua predation observations, and have already seen three penguin chicks taken.
  7. This week the radio transmitters are being tested in each colony so they are ready to deploy starting on the 6th of January.

Pinnipeds:

  1. From December 26-28 we completed the annual Cape Shirreff-wide pup census. The mean number of pups observed was 1267, a sizeable decrease from the 1546 pups observed last year.
  2. We completed the final fur seal census of the core study beaches on 30 December. There were 126 males (93 territorial), 164 adult females, and 414 live pups. After completing this census, we determined that the median date of pupping was 5 December.
  3. To date, one female has completed five trips, seven females have completed four trips, and sixteen females have completed three trips. All 26 females have completed two trips, and the mean duration of these second trips is 4.06 days (n=26, range=0.79-5.63d, s.d.=1.06).
  4. We continued collecting adult female fur seal scats for our fur seal diet study. We are processing some of these scats each week and freezing the rest for later processing.
  5. Twenty-five of the 26 study pups continued to be resighted daily through the end of 2017. Also, five of the six pups born as twins continue to be resighted. We have begun to weigh the pups after their mom has completed three trips in anticipation of study pup loss due to leopard seal predation.
  6. We have begun to collect DNA from the pups of tagged adult female fur seals. The last phocid census was split into two days, 29 and 30 December. We observed 244 elephant seals, 28 Weddell seals, 6 leopard seals, and one juvenile crabeater seal. We’re down to only one elephant seal weaned pup, and thus for elephant seals we are primarily resighting molting juveniles and adult females.
  7. On 22 December we observed an elephant seal with a non-AMLR tag. The tagged animal was photographed.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. We had some good holiday flying this week. On Christmas day and New Year’s Eve we completed 5 flights gathering UAS-Antarctic fur seal ground survey comparison observations.

Weather:

  1. The New Year was ushered in by relatively mild weather week at the Cape. We said goodbye to 2017 with mostly overcast skies and light wind from the NE. The average temperature was 1.4°C with a high of 4.1°C and a low of -0.2°C. Wind speed topped out at 34 mph with an average of 10.6 mph bringing the wind chill average to -2.7°C with a low of -7.0°C. Total precipitation was similar to the previous week with 0.52 inches, and the average solar radiation was higher with a daily average of 17,504 Watts/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. Like sands through the hourglass, we move into a new month and a new year. Our maintenance priorities for January are: a) Preparing and then painting (in this order): the east and south walls of the supply hut, the bird blind, and the west and south walls of the main hut. b) Replacing the main hut front and rear doors. c) Repairing the decking below the main hut water barrel and re-caulking the wall base to stop water intrusion.
  2. Progress on items noted above are as follows: a) We have scrapped, peeled and prepared the east wall of the supply hut, and 30% of the bird blind for painting; b) Our framing lumber is inadequate to complete our door-replacement project. We have ordered replacement lumber to arrive in the coming days with our resupply; c) The ice and snow beneath this portion of the deck continues to melt and should be clear in the coming week.
  3. In an effort to increase convenience and sanitation we installed a permanent hand sanitizer dispenser in the outhouse.  Need proof? Check out the picture below!
  4. In preparation for resupply the ATV made a stop at the Cape Shirreffers Discount Track shop to swap out the snow tracks for wheels. The cargo trailer was also cleaned up and attached.
  5. After several days of snow and rain the rain barrels were pumped. We now have approximately 700 gallons of stored fresh water.

Camp Life:

  1. Tis the week of holidays! We here at Cape Shirreff celebrated Christmas with delicious cinnamon rolls, thoughtful and practical presents, and a Christmas Day feast of smoked turkey, smoked salmon, mashed potatoes, spinach puree, rolls, and pumpkin pie. To top off the evening we enjoyed egg nog and a Yule log while embarking on a journey through Middle Earth via the Lord of the Rings movies.
  2. We rang in the New Year with a feast and numerous multi-cultural traditions.
  3. The historical wood pile is completely melted out providing a daily reminder of the history of the cape.
Cape Shirreff skua monitoring teamCape Shirreff skua monitoring team Yes, that's a hand sanitizer dispenser.. it's the little things that make a big difference!Yes, that's a hand-sanitizer dispenser... sometimes it's the little things that make a big difference!


Sit Rep #9: 25 December 2017 Merry Christmas!

Seabirds:

  1. This week the snow stakes on Chungungo Flats and on Copihue are free of snow; those were the last two still buried.  
  2. Chinstraps penguins have begun hatching. Out of the 98 chinstrap nests we follow for reproductive success, 13 have one-egg clutches, 65 nests have two egg clutches, seven are in the process of hatching, two have finished hatching, and 11 have failed. Out of the 13 known age nests we have found, three have one egg clutches, six have two egg clutches and four have failed.
  3. Gentoos have not yet begun hatching but are very close. Out of the 50 nests we are following for reproductive success, seven have one egg clutches, 41 have two egg clutches and only two have failed. Out of the 23 known age nests we have found, two have one egg clutches, 20 have two egg clutches, and one, perched precariously on a ridge, lost two eggs, laid a third and also lost that one, ultimately failing.
  4. Brown skuas are still incubating eggs. Twenty-two territories are active. Six have lost the eggs they have laid up until now, but some may still relay. Four have one-egg clutches and 12 have two-egg clutches. Some skua nests are nearing 29 days of incubation, at which point we begin daily visits to check for hatch. On the 24th we banded the last unbanded territory-holding skua.
  5. On December 24th, the DCC unit was taken out to the skua shack and the DCC antenna was installed. We will begin testing radio tags in different penguin colonies on the 26th, so they are ready for deployment after peak hatch.
  6. On December 19th we concluded a week of skua predation observations, during which we watched the colonies for two 30 minute periods a day in an effort to observe and quantify predation pressure on the penguins.

Pinnipeds:

  1. During the latest fur seal census on 24 December, we observed 220 fur seal females, 414 live pups, one dead pup, 148 adult males (108 territorial), and seven juvenile fur seals. We have begun to observe pup carcasses wash up on shore as a result of leopard seal predation.
  2. All twenty-six attendance study fur seal females have completed their first trip to sea, with an average trip length was 3.38 days (n=26, range: 0.38-7.32d, s.d.=1.51). Seventeen females have completed two trips, with an average second trip length is 3.86 days (n=17, range: 0.79-5.63d, s.d.=1.2). Six females have completed three trips, and one female has already completed four trips.
  3. Post-perinatal pup weights have been completed; as we have weighed all twenty-six study pups. Average mass for male pups was 7.3kg (n=18, range: 6.0-8.8kg, s.d.=0.89). Average mass for female pups was 7.2kg (n=8, range: 6.1-8.0kg, s.d.=0.70).
  4. We observed two young, tagged females that recruited to and gave birth for the first time on one of the study beaches, and one tagged female recruited to and gave birth for the first time on another beach on the Cape.
  5. We have begun scat collection for diet study analysis, and will begin processing scats this week.
  6. During this week’s phocid census, we recorded 309 southern elephant seals, 51 Weddell seals, four leopard seals, and one crabeater seal.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. No activities to report for this past week.

Weather:

  1. Cape Sherriff campers had hopes fulfilled this Christmas season with light, puffy snow on Christmas Eve.  Weather overall for the holiday week included mostly overcast skies with light rain and snow.  The average temperature was 1.1°C with a high of 3.0°C and a low of -0.8°C.   Wind speed topped out at 47 mph with an average of 13.2 mph bringing the wind chill average to -4.9°C with a low of -12.8°C.  Total precipitation was 0.51 inches and the average solar radiation was lower this week with a mean daily of 11,318 Watts/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. Our maintenance priorities for December are: a) Clearing, scrapping and preparing for painting (in this order): east and south walls of the supply hut, the bird blind, and the west and south walls of the main hut; b) Obtaining detailed, cataloged measurements, photographs of the outhouse when clear of snow;  c) Replacing the main hut front door if clear and conditions remain above freezing; and d) We also recently discovered that the water repelling integrity of the supply hut and freshies room south walls has failed. The extra moisture/standing water lead to mold-regrowth and significant loss of vegetables.
  2. Progress on items noted above are as follows: a) Clearing ice, snow and water barrels away from the supply and main huts is now 100% complete. We have scrapped, peeled and prepared the east wall of the supply hut, and 30% of the bird blind for painting; b) The outhouse was measured thoroughly, photographed and video taken. We also completed taking videos of all of the main camp spaces. This completes our measurements/documentation work for the season; c) Our framing lumber is inadequate to complete our door-replacement project. We have ordered replacement lumber to arrive in a few weeks with our resupply; and d) On 17 December the crew took advantage of our first calm, sunny day and removed all items from the lower levels of the supply hut and freshies room south walls. All items were dried and cleaned. The walls and floors were scrubbed repeatedly with Shockwave, rinsed, cleaned and dried using our industrial ventilation fan. A major reorganization of both spaces was conducted as well.
  3. We installed all gutters at the main camp, and set up the kitchen sink water barrel which is providing us with running water for the first time this season. :D
  4. On the 21st of December we installed the gutters and rain collection system at the skua shack as well.
  5. One of our propane freezers (Stay Wet Room) has not been performing well. It is working and maintaining a temperature ~ -5°C compared to the typical -15°C. Some minor maintenance was performed and the freezer is being monitored.
  6. Repairs were completed to a portion of the outhouse deck that broke.

Camp Life:

  1. We have been thawing turkeys and salmon in anticipation of a big Christmas dinner tomorrow night. Everyone would like to take this opportunity to wish a huge HAPPY HOLIDAYS wish to all of our friends and family. 

Sit Rep #8: 18 December 2017

Seabirds:

  1. We had a snowstorm this week that temporarily coated the colonies, burying some chinstrap penguins up to their heads on their nests. The days after brought sunny, above-zero weather, which quickly melted all the snow that had fallen and the colonies are now bare again.
  2. Both penguin species continue to incubate eggs. Out of the 98 chinstrap penguin nests we are following for the reproductive success study, 77 have two egg clutches, 13 have one egg clutches and eight have failed. From the 14 known-age chinstrap nests, eight have two egg clutches, three have one egg clutches, and three have failed.
  3. Gentoos are also sitting tight on their nests, waiting for hatch. In the reproductive success study for gentoo penguins, out of 50 nests, 45 have two egg clutches, four have one egg clutches and only one nest has failed. Out of the 25 known-age gentoo nests, 23 have two egg clutches, one has a one egg clutch and one has failed.
  4. Brown skuas have been busy laying eggs this week (and losing them). Twelve pairs have two egg clutches, four have one egg clutches and three pairs have failed.
  5. With the help of the pinniped team, this week we measured and weighed 100 eggs from 50 nests with two-egg clutches for each species.
  6. Kelp gulls have entered their hatching season. We counted 26 adults at the Toqui colony and found 23 nests containing a total of 51 eggs and nine chicks. At the Loberia colony only 12 gulls were counted and six nests found. Those nests contained four eggs and eight chicks.

Pinnipeds:

  1. As of 16 December, 14 of our 26 CCAMLR attendance females had completed their first trip to sea, and one female had completed two trips. For those 14 females, the average first trip length was 3.25 days (n=14, range: 2.00-5.08, s.d.=1.01).
  2. We are monitoring the growth of our CCAMLR attendance females’ pups and have gotten a post-perinatal mass on twenty-one of the twenty-six study pups. The average mass for male pups was 7.1 kg (n=13, range:6.0-8.3, s.d.=0.73) and the average mass for female pups was 7.2 kg (n=6, range:6.1-8.4, s.d.=0.94).
  3. During the last census of fur seal study beaches on 16 December, we recorded a total of 278 females and 413 live pups (three dead). There were 202 adult males, 145 of which were holding territory.
  4. We continue to record arrivals and parturition dates of tagged Antarctic fur seal females. Once the last pups are born we will calculate overwinter survival and natality rates.
  5. On the last phocid census on 15 December, we recorded 278 southern elephant seals, 48 Weddell seals, two leopard seals, and one crabeater seal. This was our first phocid census this year with all four species that we typically see here at the Cape.
  6. With the birth of another apparently healthy set of twins, we have recorded three pairs of twins to Antarctic fur seals on our study site to date. We are tracking the twins’ growth rates and their moms’ foraging trips.
  7. This week we re-sighted our first two previously-tagged adult female leopard seals for the season. One of them, tagged 18 OR, has been seen patrolling our study beaches for fur seal pups. Since the pups are too young to enter the inter-tidal areas at this point, she has been seen moving up into the colonies and removing pups from land and then taking them into the water to consume them.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. This was a productive week for the UAS program. We completed the out-of-box inspections, calibrations and tests for a new hexacopter platform (tail # N658XC). With two more flights, we have now completed our early-season penguin work which included 300’ coverage of all colonies in association with the ground nest census, 4-altitude UAS-penguin response flights and observations, and a comparison of UAS 100’ mapping with concurrent ground surveys. We also completed five flights gathering 4-altitude UAS-Antarctic fur seal response observations, and one UAS-leoaprd seal response flight. This week we hope conduct additional flights in support of our UAS-fur seal response study and leopard seal photogrammetry.

Weather:

  1. Cape Sherriff weather for the previous week included both a full day of blizzard conditions and a full day of clear sunshine. The average temperature was 0.2°C with a high of 6.2°C and a low of -2.5°C. Wind speed (largely from the East) topped out at 45 mph with an average of 10.5 mph bringing the wind chill average to -3.9°C with a low of -9.2°C. Total precipitation was 0.14 inches and the average solar radiation was 17,313 Watts/m2. Due to a slight formatting error, last week’s weather data has been revised and updated.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. Our maintenance priorities for December are: a) Clearing, scrapping and preparing for painting (in this order): east and south walls of the supply hut, the bird blind, and the west and south walls of the main hut; b) Obtaining detailed, cataloged measurements, photographs of the outhouse when clear of snow;  c) Replacing the main hut front door if clear and conditions remain above freezing; and d) We also recently discovered that the water repelling integrity of the supply hut and freshies room south walls has failed. The extra moisture/standing water lead to mold-regrowth and significant loss of vegetables.
  2. Progress on our maintenance priorities are as follows: a) Clearing ice, snow and water barrels away from the supply and main huts is now 100% complete. We scrapped, peeled and prepared the east wall of the supply hut for painting as soon as we have a 2-3 day dry-and-above-freezing stretch; b) The outhouse is surrounded by ~ 1.5’ of snow on three sides; c) This week we discovered that our framing lumber is inadequate to complete our door-replacement project. We have ordered replacement lumber to arrive in a few weeks with our resupply; and d) On 17 December the crew took advantage of our first calm, sunny day and removed all items from the lower levels of the supply hut and freshies room south walls. All items were dried and cleaned. The walls and floors were scrubbed repeatedly with Shockwave, rinsed, cleaned and dried using our industrial ventilation fan. A major reorganization of both spaces was conducted as well.
  3. After a small battle with snow accumulation this week, all deck spaces have been cleared of snow and ice.
  4. The stay-wet room was cleaned and ventilated with the industrial ventilation fan to dry it out a bit.
  5. Three fish boxes on the north wall of the supply hut were emptied, dried, and moved away from the wall to clear ice and snow, and lower the window covers. They were repacked and re-secured.
  6. The down-spout rain barrels were pumped out in preparation for installing the gutters this week if above-freezing temperatures persist. 
  7. We conducted a fuel transfer from our large blue barrels into the more-manageable red jerry cans. Our current power system configuration has reduced our fuel consumption by over 50% compared with 2014-15.

Camp Life:

  1. On December 14th, inspired by one camper’s admiration for the book The Last Place on Earth, we celebrated ‘South Pole Day’ in honor of Amundsen’s arrival at the pole. We persevered through the snow storm that was appropriately occurring, and made a traditional Norwegian spread of the Norwegian national dish Fårikål (lamb and cabbage stew), potato lefsa flat bread, pepperkakers, and kringle.
  2. By way of saying “thank you” to our seabird program colleagues for all of their support and help during our CCAMLR fur seal perinatal captures, the pinniped team cooked them an appreciation dinner including planked salmon, broccoli and mushroom casserole, a delicious rice dish, and peanut butter pie. Thank you Nai and Steph!
  3. Given the rapidly disappearing snow cover around our study sites, all skiis were cleaned, sharpened, waxed, and stored in the supply hut attic for the winter. Snow shoes were triaged and stored as well. Four out of five campers are quite relieved to scamper along bare ground again.
  4. After a busy early-December we have set our sights on the upcoming holiday season. This week we set up the Christmas tree, decorated with various iterations of origami and ornaments. Santa has loaded the tree with presents. We are looking forward to solstice and Christmas celebrations in the coming days.

Sit Rep #7: 11 December 2017

Seabirds:

  1. The temperature has been above zero this week which has encouraged a lot of snow melt. Both snow stakes by the penguin colonies are now out of the snow.
  2. Of the 50 gentoo penguin nests we are monitoring for reproductive success, 48 (96%) have two-egg clutches and two (4%) have one-egg clutches. None have failed. Twenty-three known-age gentoo nests have been found from daily resighting efforts. Of these, 22 have two-egg clutches and one has a one-egg clutch. None have failed.
  3. Chinstrap penguins are finished laying. Of the 98 nests we are monitoring for chinstrap reproductive success, 81 (83%) have 2-egg clutches, 11 (11%) have one egg and six (6%) have failed. Out of the 13 total known-age chinstrap nests we have found, two have one-egg clutches, eight have two-egg clutches and three have failed.
  4. Brown skuas are nearly finished laying eggs. Thirteen pairs are active. Twelve have two eggs and one has one egg. None have failed.
  5. On December 7th in the early morning, a juvenile emperor penguin was seen wandering by camp.

Pinnipeds:

  1. We completed perinatal fur seal captures for monitoring attendance and foraging behavior on 10 December. In all, our sample involved capturing, measuring, sampling, and instrumenting 26 fur seal females. All 26 females were fitted with VHF radio transmitters to monitor trip and visit duration, and 11 of those animals were given TDR instruments to collect additional trip and dive data. All females were captured and weighed within 48 hours of parturition.
  2. Three of the twenty-six CCAMLR attendance females tagged thus far have completed their first trip to sea, and ten additional females are currently on their first trip.
  3. We are monitoring pup growth of our CCAMLR attendance females and have gotten a post-perinatal mass on eight of the pups whose mothers have departed for sea.
  4. During the last census of fur seal study beaches on 10 December, we recorded a total of 373 females and 357 live pups (two dead). There were 186 adult males, 143 of which were holding territory.
  5. We continue to record arrivals of tagged Antarctic fur seal females. Once the last pups are born we will calculate overwinter survival and natality rates.
  6. On the last phocid census on 9 December, we counted 248 southern elephant seals, 34 Weddell seals, no leopard seals, and no crabeater seals. We have recorded the birth of two pairs of Antarctic fur seal twins on our study site.

Fur seal capture team at Cape Shirreff. Photo Credit: NOAA,AERD

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. We had another windy, wet week, however we managed to complete a single flight over the east penguin colonies. That flight was part of our UAS-wildlife response study. This week we hope to complete the early season penguin UAS work with some 100’ UAS-penguin response flights.

Weather:

  1. Cape Sherriff weather for the first week of December was slightly warmer overall, and included light fog with overcast skies. The average temperature was 1.6°C with a high of 3.9°C and a low of 0°C. Wind speed (largely from the West) topped out at 26 mph with an average of 6.3 mph bringing the wind chill average to -1.1°C with a low of -4.9°C. Total precipitation was 0.13 inches and the average solar radiation was higher this week with a mean daily of 15,423 W/m2.


Camp Maintenance:

  1. Our maintenance priorities for December are: a) Clearing, scrapping and preparing for painting (in this order): a) east and south walls of the supply hut, the bird blind, and the west and south walls of the main hut; b) Obtaining detailed, cataloged measurements, photographs of the outhouse when clear of snow; and c) Replacing the main hut front door if clear and conditions remain above freezing.
  2. Progress on our maintenance priorities are as follows:  a) Clearing ice and snow away from the supply hut is 50% complete;  b) The outhouse is surrounded by ~ 3.5’ of snow on three sides; and c) This week was filled with mostly-poor weather and high priority science tasks, stay tuned.

Camp Life:

  1. Our adventures in Iridium functionality continued this week after we were unable to obtain any Iridium signal from any phone or antenna on the morning of 7 December. We completed our daily safety check-in via email, and later our colleagues at the USAP/ASC provided an update that the Iridium problem was continent-wide and was caused by the Iridium system provider. All communication systems are currently working well.
  2. We inventoried our current fuel and food stores in order to inform our placement of orders for a re-supply due to arrive in January.
  3. After the completion of our first week with the average temperature above freezing, we moved our blue water barrel outside. The additional floor space in main camp is much appreciated by all campers.
  4. We celebrated the birthday of one of our campmates this week. The celebration was punctuated by our first batch of homemade ice cream (coconut-raspberry), a delicious chocolate cake, and of course, there was much rejoicing.

Sit Rep #6: 4 December 2017

Seabirds:

  1. All penguin colonies are now free of snow. Snow stakes in the colony indicate that the snow level has gone down 30cm since our arrival in October.
  2. Gentoo penguins finished laying and all 50 nests we monitor for the reproductive success study are active. Of these, 1 has a one egg clutch, 49 have two egg clutches, and none have failed. All 22 of the gentoo known age nests we are following have 2-egg clutches.
  3. On the 3rd of December we conducted the nest census of all gentoo colonies. We counted 706 nests (482 in the west colonies, 224 in the east colonies), which is down about 8% from last year’s 771.
  4. Chinstrap penguins are almost done laying, with only a few nests still to complete their clutches. Out of the 100 nests we follow for the reproductive success study, 7 have one egg clutches, 88 have two egg clutches, 3 have failed, and 2 have yet to lay. Out of the 13 chinstrap known-age nests we have found and are following, 2 have one egg clutches, 9 have two egg clutches and 2 have failed.
  5. On November 30 and December 1st we conducted the chinstrap penguin nest census. This year marks a sharp dip in chinstrap numbers. We counted 2445 nests (994 in the W colonies, 1255 in the E colonies and 196 in the control colony), which is down about 20% from last year’s 3060.
  6. We continue to regularly check brown skua territories. Pairs have begun nesting and laying this week, with the first egg seen on November 29. Currently, seven nests are active, two of these have two-egg clutches and the remaining five have one egg clutches.
  7. On November 28, an Antarctic tern was seen sitting on an egg by one of the eastern beaches. On November 30, what we think was a light-mantled sooty albatross flew over camp from the south, turned and headed back to sea towards the east. On December 2nd, there was an Adélie penguin on the beach below camp.

Pinnipeds:

  1. We captured, tagged, and collected samples from one Weddell seal pup this week, bringing our season total of tagged Weddell pups to four.
  2. We completed range testing for the signal strength of our VHF transmitters and the range of our VHF receiving stations.
  3. We began perinatal fur seal captures for attendance and foraging behavior this week. We have completed 9 of the planned 26 captures. All females have received VHF radio transmitters for monitoring attendance behavior and trip duration (CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program protocol). Four females, thus far, have also received a time depth recorder for monitoring diving effort while at sea. Two of the TDRs also have GPS Fast-loc technology for recording at sea location. Thus far, none of our instrumented female fur seals have departed on their first trip to sea.
  4. During the latest fur seal census on 2 December, we recorded 257 fur seal females, 118 pups, and 195 males. Of these males, 137 of them were holding territory.
  5. During the phocid census on 1 December, we observed 125 elephant seals, 35 Weddell seals, and two leopard seals. We did not observe any crabeater seals.

Hexacopter at Cape Shirreff. Photo Credit: NOAA,AERD

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. Despite high winds throughout most of the week we managed to complete ten flights near the penguin colonies in support of our UAS-penguin response study, and 300’ coverage for the penguin nest census over all colonies. We also recorded observations of penguin response to our traditional ground-based penguin nest census. This week we hope to complete the early season penguin UAS work with some 100’ UAS-penguin response flights.

Weather:

  1. Cape Sherriff weather this week included light fog, overcast skies, and brisk wind from the West. The average temperature was 0.5°C with a high of 2.2°C and a low of -3.3°C. Wind speed topped out at 51 mph with an average of 16.1 mph bringing the wind chill average to -4.9°C with a low of -12.8°C. Total precipitation was 0.25 inches and the average solar radiation was lower this week with a mean daily of 13,890W/m2.


Camp Maintenance:

  1. Our maintenance priorities for December are: a) Clearing, scrapping and preparing for painting (in this order): east and south walls of the supply hut, the bird blind, and the west and south walls of the main hut. b) Obtaining detailed, cataloged measurements, photographs of the outhouse when clear of snow. c) Replacing the main hut front door if clear and conditions remain above freezing.
  2. Progress on items above are: a) Clearing ice and snow away from the supply hut is 20% complete. b) The outhouse is surrounded by ~ 4.5’ of snow on three sides. c) This week was our first week with average temperatures above freezing, stay tuned.

Camp Life:

  1. This week one of our two Iridium phones stopped functioning properly, and was replaced by our back-up phone. Our colleagues at the USAP/ASC provided quick and excellent support to transfer our SIM access to the second phone. We’ll attempt to bring a new back-up phone during the resupply in January. All communication systems are currently working well.
  2. We are currently using our 5th of the 12 blue water barrels that supply our fresh water needs and supplementing with melted snow.
  3. A deck path on the southern side of the supply hut was shoveled clear of snow and ice. Other areas of deck around the buildings are melting out with the help of warm temperatures.
  4. Everyone here at Cape Shirreff would like to wish a warm and happy Antarctica Day (December 1) to all of our friends and families!  

Sit Rep #5: 27 November 2017

Seabirds:

  1. The weather has stayed largely below zero this week, which has limited snow melt. Snow stakes near the colonies indicate a mere 5cm down from last week. Chinstrap colonies are 95% free of snow, and gentoo colonies are 70% free of snow. Slow snow melting, however, has not discouraged clutch initiation.
  2. Chinstrap penguins are in the throes of egg laying. Peak clutch initiation was on Thanksgiving (23rd of November). On the 24th, we collected data for the ADE1 study, which measures the condition of returning breeders by sampling 50 single-egg chinstrap nests. We weighed both adults, plus weighed and measured the single egg. The female weight average (3,556g) and male weight average (3,941g) are about the same as last year. The average egg weight (109.2g) was slightly higher than last year (104.7g).
  3. Out of the 100 reproductive success nests we follow for chinstraps, 86 are active; 43 of those have 2-egg clutches. Nineteen chinstrap known-age birds have initiated clutches, seven of those have 2-egg clutches. No chinstrap nests, repro or known age, have failed.
  4. Gentoo peak clutch initiation was on November 25th, close behind the chinstraps. From the 50 reproductive success plots we follow, 40 (80%) have initiated clutches, of those seven (14%) have 2-egg clutches. None have yet failed. Twenty-seven known-age gentoo penguins have initiated clutches, of those six have 2-egg clutches and one has failed.
  5. An Adélie penguin was spotted on Daniel beach, by camp, on the 26th of November.
  6. We continue to check brown skua territories every four days. The skuas are still establishing territories and engaged in courtship, and we have not seen eggs yet.

Pinnipeds:

  1. We captured, tagged, and DNA sampled two Weddell pups this week, bringing our season total to three.
  2. We are nearing completion of testing for the signal strength of our VHF transmitters and the range tests for our VHF receiving stations. Preliminary results suggest that we will be able to expand the range of the receiving stations to better cover desired areas.
  3. During the last fur seal census on 26 November, we recorded 55 fur seal females, seven pups, and 146 males. Of these males, 114 were territorial, and we have recorded one pup mortality.
  4. We have observed six tagged fur seal females to date.
  5. During the phocid census on 17 November, we observed 96 elephant seals and 17 Weddell seals. We did not observe any leopard or crabeater seals.
  6. The last breeding female elephant seal on the Cape weaned her pup and departed to sea on 24 November.
  7. We captured the final six weaned elephant seal pups and collected DNA from them. The final count of elephant seal pups born and weaned on the Cape this year is 17. We captured and freed a juvenile fur seal male entangled in a fishing net on 20 November. He had some wounds from the net, but appeared to still be in good health overall.

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS):

  1. This week we completed the last of our initial out-of-box set up, calibration, and testing for our APH-22 hexactopter UAS. All systems are functional. Our major projects for this field season are to census our penguin colonies, measure leopard and fur seal seal body size, and make systematic observations of how wildlife populations respond to the UAS. This week we plan to obtain aerial photographs of the penguin study colonies this week in concert with ground-based nest counts.

Weather:

  1. Cape Sherriff weather for the week of Thanksgiving included light precipitation, overcast skies and intermittent changes in wind direction and speed. However, Tuesday was especially clear and bright providing a good opportunity to test the hexacopter. The average temperature was -1.2 ˚C with a high of 6.6 ˚C and a low of -3.1 ˚C. Wind speed (largely from the West) topped out at 49 mph with an average of 10.8 mph bringing the wind chill average to -5.8 ˚C with a low of -10.3 ˚C. Total precipitation was 0.81 inches, and the average solar radiation was higher this week with a mean daily of 18,761 W/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. No activities this week.

Camp Life:

  1. All gear brought to the Cape for opening has been moved into the camp for storage and unpacking.
  2. Despite a brief warming spell earlier in the month, our temperatures were below freezing this week. Therefore, we are working through our fourth blue water barrel in the main hut, and supplementing our water supply with melted snow.
  3. After the snow storms this past week, we have re-shoveled out most of our deck walkways.
  4. We celebrated Thanksgiving with smoked turkeys and salmon, the traditional sides, and a cornucopia of pies. The meal was epic and delicious, and provided an opportunity for us to reflect on how fortunate we all are. Thank you to all of our friends and families for their warm holiday wishes!   

Sit Rep #4: 20 November 2017

Seabirds:

  1. A bout of rain has encouraged some snow melting in the colonies. The chinstrap penguin colonies are mostly (95%) free of snow. The gentoo penguin colonies are approximately 65% free of snow. Some gentoos have built nests outside the colonies on higher ground that is snow free.
  2. All reproductive success plots for both species have been set up and are being monitored daily.
  3. Chinstrap and gentoo penguin have both begun laying eggs. The first chinstrap egg was seen on the 15th, and the first egg in a study plot was observed on the 17th. Currently, 11 of our study nests (11%) and one known-age chinstrap penguin have laid their first egg. We have not seen two egg clutches.
  4. The first gentoo penguin egg was seen on the 18th on the West side.
  5. Brown skuas continue to pair and establish territories. They have been seen more often at the edges of the penguin colonies. A pair of skuas was seen taking a chinstrap egg on the 19th.
  6. Kelp gulls are nest-building and pairing. A copulation was observed on November 19.
  7. On the 19th an Adélie penguin was seen on Marko beach and a snowy sheathbill was sighted near the emergency shelter/bird blind.

Pinnipeds:

  1. During the phocid census on 17 November, we observed 51 elephant seals and 32 Weddell seals. We did not observe any leopard or crabeater seals, although a crabeater seal was seen on the Cape on 18 November.
  2. As of the most recent elephant seal census on 19 November, five females remained onshore suckling their pups and thirteen pups had weaned. The count of elephant seal pups has remained steady at 18 for the past week and a half. We continued sampling and tagging weaned pups this week.
  3. Antarctic fur seal females have begun to slowly trickle in to the rookeries, but no pups have been born to date. During the last fur seal census on 18 November, we recorded two fur seal females and 137 males.
  4. We captured, tagged, and sampled a Weddell pup on 17 November. We also took DNA samples from two tagged Weddell seals this week.
  5. To date we have resighted seven tagged fur seals, including one female. We continue to resight a juvenile elephant seal born at the Cape, and have resighted seven tagged Weddells in addition to the newly tagged pup.
  6. We are continuing range tests of our VHF receiving stations, including work with an additional omnidirectional antenna to expand the range of one of the stations. Both stations will soon be ready to begin logging instrumented lactating fur seals for attendance patterns and trip durations.
  7. A juvenile southern elephant seal was observed in the intertidal zone of Marko beach with orange Allflex tags #263, and its fur dyed with “ST 16” along its dorsal flank.

Weather:

  1. Cape Sherriff weather this week was slightly warmer; skies were mostly overcast with light snow/fog and brief periods of sunshine. The average temperature was -0.2 ˚C with a high of 3.6 ˚C and a low of -1.9 ˚C. Wind speed (largely from the West) topped out at 33 mph with an average of 8.5 bringing the wind chill average to -4 ˚C with a low of -8.5 ˚C. Total precipitation was 0.75 inches and the average solar radiation this week climbed to a mean daily rate of 14,077 Watts/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. Our maintenance priorities for November (mold abatement plus obtaining detailed measurements, photographs and video of all Cape Shirreff buildings) have been completed.
  2. We have experienced several electrical problems at the emergency shelter/bird blind.One of the 12 volt power receptacles was replaced after it short circuited a laptop power supply (resolved). The main solar controller suffered a complete degradation of several power terminals, and was replaced. The three battery array was recharged with the generator, and several wires and terminals were cleaned and or replaced. Finally, the solar panels for that array were individually tested after one was discovered to have degraded, which revealed that four of the six available panels for that array no longer functioned. A big thank you to Nai for doing that detective and maintenance work.

Camp Life:

  1. Despite several inches of new snow deposited this week we continue to make progress in our camp shoveling efforts. At this point an estimated 50% of the deck area has been cleared of ice and snow including most of the area north of Cabo Lodge where the blue water barrels have been moved against the buildings.
  2. On November 14th at approximately 13:30 all members of the Cape Shirreff field team heard a propeller plane flying over the Cape passing from northwest to southeast. No visual contact was made due to heavy fog.
  3. We moved our third blue water barrel into the hut this week to thaw and continue to supplement our cooking and washing water with melted snow.
  4. Menu and oven-logistics planning for the holiday this week has been completed, and we’re looking forward to a tasty Thanksgiving dinner. 
  5. Everyone at the Cape would like to wish a warm and happy Thanksgiving to their families and friends!

Sit Rep #3: 13 November 2017

Seabirds:

  1. The penguin colonies are slowly melting out. The chinstrap colonies are 60% free of snow, but the gentoo colonies are still only 20% free of snow. Only a few gentoo have begun nest construction. Chinstrap penguins have most of their nests built, and we are expecting eggs soon. Cameras on reproductive success plots have been set up and are taking pictures.
  2. The penguin team’s efforts this week have been largely directed towards resighting and establishing plots for monitoring the reproductive success of penguins throughout the colony.
  3. An Adélie penguin was seen on Marko beach on the 10th of November.
  4. A camera was set up in the kelp gull colony to begin monitoring of reproductive success in addition to our standard monitoring of annual abundance.

Pinnipeds:

  1. During this week’s phocid census on 10 November, we observed 38 elephant seals and 27 Weddell seals. Two Weddell pups were observed, including one weaned pup and one with its mother.
  2. At the time of the most recent elephant seal breeding census, 11 November, we observed seven females still with nursing pups and 10 weaned pups. We have tagged and collected a small tissue sample for DNA analysis from five of these weaned pups.
  3. We set up our VHF radio transmitter data logging systems, one on each end of the Antarctic fur seal study site. Both stations use paired 4-element Yagi directional arrays. We will be performing range tests to validate our expected range for both stations for the next couple of weeks.
  4. We have resighted five tagged fur seals so far, including three territorial males and two juvenile males.
  5. The first Antarctic fur seal female was observed on Maderas on 10 November. She was not pregnant.

Weather:

  1. Cape Sherriff weather this week was slightly warmer and predominantly overcast with brief spells of rain and snow. The average temperature was -0.4 ˚C with a high of -2 ˚C and a low of -2.8 ˚C. Wind speed (largely from the West) topped out at 41mph with an average of 11.3mph bringing the wind chill average to -5 ˚C with a low of -10.4 ˚C. Total precipitation was 0.57 inches, and the average solar radiation was higher this week with a mean daily of 10,621 W/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. Our maintenance priorities for November are mold abatement and obtaining detailed, cataloged measurements, photographs and video of all Cape Shirreff buildings. To date interior mold abatement for all buildings has been completed. We have completed manual measurements of all camp facilities except the outhouse. Detailed diagrams of each space were created, filled in, and scans were made. Additionally, multiple photographs of all spaces were taken to correspond to the diagrams. Videos of all spaces, and our gear transit routes (boat beach to camp and camp to bird blind) are still on our list for completion.

Camp Life:

  1. We continued to unpack gear and supplies at camp as needed for food stores, workshop projects, and lab work.
  2. Shoveling and de-icing the deck has ensued including a complete deck path around the main camp.
  3. In preparation for Thanksgiving, preliminary menu planning has begun, and the smoker was excavated from under the past winter’s snow accumulation.
  4. We continue to use our second blue water barrel and supplement our cooking and washing water with melted snow.

Bonus Field Note!  7 November 2017

Cape Shirreff Main Camp hut

On November 6 at approximately 5 pm a passerine was identified near the Cape Shirreff main camp by Doug Krause. The medium (robin) sized songbird was viewed in close range, while in flight, circling camp as it made several attempts to tuck under camp roof awnings. The bird was re-sighted later in the evening of Nov 6 alone. The bird was swallow-like with sooty gray to dark blue gray flight feathers with distinctly white breast and amber nape. The beak and feet were dark and not prominent on the body. Flight feathers were blue gray to dark gray, wide and medium sharp while the tail feathers were rounded, long on the side margins, blue gray to dark gray with white band midway up on the ventral tail. Flight was directional with continuous wing beats without glide. It attempted to roost several times hovering and darting along the building overhangs.

Weather was foggy with light wind from the West and temperature of 0.2C.



Sit Rep #2: 6 November 2017

Seabirds:

  1. The bird blind is now entirely up and running. A new half-size fishbox has been brought by sled from main camp and placed on the deck for more outside storage. The deck and doorframes are almost entirely free of ice.
  2. The penguin colonies are still largely under snow and ice and there has been very little nest building. There have been no eggs observed in the colonies yet. The gentoos come back in the evening, spend the night and leave in the early morning. The chinstraps are arriving in the colonies and engaged in courtship.
  3. Brown skuas have been observed and resighted on the edges of the penguin colonies and on the beaches.
  4. Feather samples have been collected from three chinstrap penguins that are part of an on-going study of winter movement and diet.
  5. An Adélie penguin was spotted on Marko beach on the 2nd of November, and another on Nibaldo on the 4th.

Pinnipeds:

  1. During our last elephant seal breeding census on 5 November, ten females were seen nursing pups and one female was without a pup. In addition, there were six weaned pups, including one found wandering around our camp (see attached picture). Thus, the current elephant seal pup count for the season is 16.
  2. We sampled 18 adult elephant seals for DNA on 2 November, including the territorial male of the one harem on the cape, 13 breeding females, and 4 satellite males. One of the satellite males was tagged as a pup in 2011.
  3. During our weekly phocid census, we recorded 37 elephant seals and 29 Weddell seals.
  4. We observed two untagged leopard seals this week, bringing our season count of observed leopard seals to three.
  5. To date, we have observed three tagged Weddell seals, including two tagged as juveniles in 2016-17. We have also observed two tagged fur seals, including one male holding territory.

Weather:

  1. Cape Sherriff weather this week was characterized by mostly overcast skies with only intermittent breaks in cloud cover. There is an omission of 4 lines of weather data logged on Nov 5 most likely due to a drop in power between 2 and 3am. The average temperature was -3.4˚C with a high of -0.4˚C and a low of -5.9˚C. Wind speed (largely from the west) topped out at 52 mph with an average of 13.6 bringing the wind chill average to -9.2˚C with a low of -14˚C. Total precipitation was 0.03 inches marked by a brief spell of grapple. Average solar radiation was higher this week with a mean daily rate of 11,944 watts/m2.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. Our maintenance priorities for November are:  Mold abatement (item 2 below) and Obtaining detailed, cataloged measurements, photographs and video of all Cape Shirreff buildings (item 3 below).
  2. Mold abatement in all Cape Shirreff buildings has been completed after many days of hard work. In addition to hut walls and working areas, we scrubbed and Shockwaved areas of note including under bunks and below kitchen storage shelves in the main hut (not that both of these areas exhibit significant wood rot). The entire supply hut (walls, floors and shelves) was also cleaned and treated which was a major effort and logistical feat given how densely packed it is with food and supplies.
  3. This week we plan to begin mapping, drawing, photographing and measuring all buildings.

Camp Life:

  1. Several sections of deck have been dug, picked and shoveled down to deck level. Frequent snow and high winds have challenged, but not pushed back, our progress to date.
  2. Our second water barrel has been chipped out of ice, and brought into the main camp to thaw. In the meantime we are melting snow to meet our water needs.
  3. The shower room is now functioning in order to facilitate the cleanliness of the cape inhabitants.
  4. We are continuing to unpack food and supplies for the season as necessary and needed.
  5. On Thursday November 2 we conducted a medical drill in conjunction with our remote medical support contractor Maritime Medical Access (MMA). All of the medical equipment on site, and the procedures for contacting MMA were reviewed followed by simulation of a camp leader with a traumatic brain injury (not too hard to imagine). Camp staff performed with aplomb, and all communications systems worked perfectly.
  6. Trick or treat! Halloween was celebrated with a community dinner of tacos followed by a couple episodes of Stranger Things Season 1. For those living in the land of internet, no Season 2 spoilers please!

Cape Shirreff Main Camp hutCape Shirreff Main Camp hut Elephant seal on snow bank by hutElephant seal on snow bank by hut


Sit Rep #1: Camp Opening 30 October 2017

The wind is howling and camp opening tasks proceed apace at the NOAA/AMLR Cape Shirreff field station!

The 2017 Cape Shirreff opening crew arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile on 16 & 17 of October to begin the 2017/18 field season at the U.S.-AMLR base camp on Livingston Island. Participants are: Sam Woodman, Naira de Gracia, Adam Fox, Stephanie (“Steph”) Walden, and the Expedition Leader, Dr. Douglas Krause. We departed Punta Arenas for the Antarctic aboard the R/V LAURENCE M. GOULD on 21 October at 04:00 AM. Fortunately, a lull between low pressure systems allowed for relatively mild sea conditions while crossing Drake’s Passage. We arrived at Cape Shirreff in the afternoon of Tuesday 24 October.

The ship arrived at 15:15, gear staging began at 15:30 and Zodiacs were launched by 15:45.  Although wind speeds at the anchorage were relatively low (less than 15mph), recent storms provided a mix of 2-3 m swell which was workable but slow for loading zodiacs. We spent the next four hours transferring cargo from ship to shore. A group of agreeable, energetic volunteers from the ship assisted on deck and ashore moving provisions onward to the camp. An Electronics Technician from the ship also came ashore and helped set up the VHF and HF radio systems. Just after 20:00 the light began to fade, the last zodiac of cargo was delivered, and all on-shore volunteers were called back to the ship.  By that time, all NOAA cargo and crew had been transferred to shore.  By 20:30 the ship was underway to Palmer Station.  The total number of zodiac trips for gear and personnel was estimated at twelve. 

2017 opening CS crew2017 Cape Shirreff opening field crew

Snow cover for the Cape at arrival was average for this time of year, which allowed for sledding cargo from the boat beach to camp and plenty of shoveling to access doors and windows. We also want to thank the 2016-17 crew for packing the ATV in the shed with the snow tracks on, and facing outward. We would not have been able to stow all of our gear by sunset if not for the mechanical assistance from Big Red!

All overwinter storage bins remained intact, and there was no detectable damage to the camp or the emergency hut/bird blind on the north end of the cape.

Seabirds:

  1. On October 27th, we opened the bird blind/ emergency shelter, set up the weather system and operationalized the two 12-volt power systems and the propane heater.
  2. The colonies are still 95% covered in snow. A large portion of the anticipated number of gentoo penguins are present and engaged in courtship, but not yet building nests. The chinstrap colonies are mostly empty save for a few scattered groups. No eggs were observed in any of the colonies.
  3. On the 30th we began resighting banded gentoo and chinstrap penguins, and have so far identified 13 known-age gentoos  and several birds from prior reproductive success studies.

Pinnipeds:

  1. We conducted our first breeding elephant seal census on 26 October. There was only one breeding group, and it consisted of one territorial male, 12 mother pup pairs, 0 females without pups, 1 weaned pup, and 4 satellite males. We have yet to conduct a census at a secondary breeding site on the west side of the cape that occasionally has breeding elephant seals. However, there are far fewer breeding elephant seals than we have had the past few years. We have not recorded any tagged elephant seals.
  2. The fur seal breeding beaches remain mostly empty, but 1-2 adult males have arrived on each study beach to establish breeding territories. We have also observed approximately 30-40 sub-adult males across the cape, which is unusual for this time of year. As of today, we have not recorded any tagged fur seals.
  3. We have not yet conducted a comprehensive phocid census, however, we have seen several Weddell seals, including two mother-pup pairs. We have not yet observed any tagged Weddell seals.
  4. We observed an untagged, juvenile leopard seal (sex unknown) hauled out on Marko beach.
  5. We will conduct the first weekly phocid census of the entire cape on 3 November.
  6. We recovered three overwinter time-lapse cameras, which collected over 7500 images of three Antarctic fur seal study beaches.
  7. The fur seal lab is currently being unpacked and set up. Additionally, preparations are being made to install a new propane sample freezer.

Weather:

  1. We installed our weather station on 27 October and began recording wind speed, direction, temperature, humidity, precipitation and solar radiation at 15-minute intervals. This is a partial weekly weather report due to the short week. Overall conditions are mostly overcast with a stiff wind from the west. Temperature average so far is -2.1°C with a high of -0.2°C and a low of -3.6°C. The wind chill average was -9.2°C with 95% of the wind direction coming from the west. Our wind speed average 18.8 mph with a max gust of 46 mph with no total precipitation. Solar radiation averaged only 366 watts per sq. meter. Currently, sunrise and sunset on the Cape are 04:40am and 8:45pm, respectively.
  2. Our overwinter temperature logger successfully recorded temperature every 30 minutes all winter, from March 15 to October 29. The temperature is plotted below. The coldest recorded temperature of the winter was -14.7°C on September 14, while the mean temperature from Mar 15 through October 29 was -2.6°C.
2017 austral winter Cape Shirreff temperatures2017 austral winter Cape Shirreff temperatures.

Camp Maintenance:

  1. In terms of facilities and infrastructure, the camp opening has gone quite well. We have accessed and inspected all spaces.
  2. The one major system failure at camp opening was the email system. After two days of investigation and remote follow-up by our NOAA Corps officer Jessica Senzer, the problem was identified (our software service provider messed up) and a solution was found. Thank you Jesse!
  3. As of the afternoon of October 30, all methods of communication are operational (i.e. e-mail, VHF, HF, and Iridium).
  4. The camps electrical system is completely functional with 4 solar panels and two wind generators in operation. Various appliances that require 110V electricity are periodically supplied by our gasoline generators.
  5. Our maintenance priorities for the coming month are: 1) Mold abatement [currently underway] and 2) Obtaining detailed, cataloged measurements, photographs and video of all Cape Shirreff buildings.

Camp Life:

  1. Daily check-in communications (Mon-Sat) via Iridium phone have been established with Palmer Station.
  2. On the morning of October 26 all camp members completed the NOAA AMLR permit training.
  3. On October 28 all camp members completed a facilities safety tour and fire drill.
  4. The kitchen has been set up including a fully functional stove/oven and we also dug out our BBQ grill. All have been put to good use making delicious food in the midst of a challenging environment.
  5. We are very grateful to the captain, officers and crew of the LAURENCE M. GOULD for their support in opening the Cape Shirreff field camp. We extend our deepest appreciation and gratitude to all of the people who helped offload our cargo. Sean (MPC), his crew, and the scientist volunteers did an exceptional job that made this one of the quickest, safest openings in recent memory.
  6. Thanks are also extended to the staff of the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division in La Jolla, California for their support in getting the 2017/18 field season off to a good start. In particular, thanks to Dr. George Watters, Stephanie Sexton, Dr. Mike Goebel, LT Jesse Senzer, Jen Walsh, Dr. Jefferson Hinke, and Anthony Cossio.

Last modified: 2/9/2018