Friday, December 13, 2013

2 Profs Head to Antarctica for Penguin Studies

Penguin study

Posted: Dec 12, 2013
  San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 -
SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Funding is a dilemma researchers always face. Luckily for one local scientist, private funding paved the way from San Diego to the South Pole, with the benefit of using new technology that's cutting down on time in the field with better accuracy. In this week's earth 8 we bring you part 2 of the science behind this penguin study.
Senior research scientist Dr. Brent Stewart hopes to answer many important questions about several penguin species living on the South Pole.

When you're surrounded by hundreds of thousand of birds, the only way to get a better count is to fly high above them. As we showed you in part one of this series, a drone-like aircraft was used to collect more precise scientific data.
"What I really like about it is it can be a stable platform rather than flying over very quickly, we can hover. We can quickly move it in one direction, spin it around to get different perspectives," Stewart said. "But it's going to take another month, two months to count each bird at the two colonies. The big ones, the king penguins St. Andrews Bay, Salsbury Plains, they're probably 200,000 to 300,000 birds at each one of those colonies."

Although it looks crowded, Stewart says some colonies are not doing as well as others.
"Adelie penguins on the peninsula, we know that their populations are changing very rapidly as the climate there changes very rapidly. But other species are coming in and doing very well, so there are local colonies which are sustaining and are vital and other colonies are declining," he said.

Aside from a variable climate, penguins will always have natural predators.
"For Antarctic penguins, leopard seals are predators, they eat them. Particularly in the peninsula, killer whales, I think the ultimate predators are parasites which they're always dealing with. Infectious disease is a key issue in their population, biology. But it's really leopard seals and killer whales are their primary predators other than humans used to be.

"We're starting to plan for the next season next year for the Antarctic trip. Locally it's elephant seal season that's coming up in December, so I spend a lot of time out in San Nicholas & San Miguel Islands to study populations there, and we're trying to use the same kind of tools to help us with that," Stewart said.



Citadal professor headed to Antarctica to study penguins

  • Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2013
A rockhopper penguin warms its young chick and guards against predators during Citadel professor Paul Nolan's 2006 research trip to the Falkland Islands.
Penguins are the proverbial canary in a coal mine when it comes to gauging climate change, says Citadel biology professor Paul Nolan.

So he packed his freezing-weather gear and is headed to Antarctica Friday to study them.

Nolan, who studies animal behavior focusing mostly on birds, said he's been studying penguins for more than a decade, including taking several trips south of the equator to observe the waddling black and white creatures in their natural habitats.

He'll be working on the penguin study with Oxford University professor Tom Hart. People can learn more about the work, at

Nolan, who also runs the nonprofit group,said The Citadel Foundation gave him a $3,000 grant to help him with his research. He expects to share much of what he experiences with his students in future classes.

Jay Dowd, the foundation's chief executive officer, said Nolan's research is one of many ground-breaking projects conducted on campus by faculty, graduate students, and cadets to which the foundation contributes.
Nolan said it's important to go to Antarctica because "ongoing climate change is most pronounced at the poles." In Antarctica, there's been a 5- to 6-degree temperature increase in the past 100 years," he said.

The researchers plan to study the birds in two major ways. They will collect and analyze feathers that drop from the birds, he said, because feathers contain stress hormones, an indicator of environmental change.
They also will place cameras in penguin colonies that snap pictures every hour. The cameras will remain in place for about a year, he said, then researchers will go back and collect the cards from the cameras and study the photos. "The big idea behind this is that we want to monitor the behavior without bothering the birds."

A huge number of photographs will be collected, Nolan said, and members of the public can volunteer to help annotate them. The photographs will be available on April 25, which is International Penguin Day, he said.

Nolan said his unique role in the project is to study the color and color changes of the birds, especially in their beaks and feet. Color can reveal a great deal about an animal's health, he said.

Temperatures in Antarctica this time of year range from 0 to 20 degrees, he said, but he's ready for the cold.
The research team will travel on a cruise ship, and take Zodiac boats to various penguin colonies each day, he said. It's very difficult to find a way to travel in that part of the world, he said, but cruise ships work well. The researchers will make some presentations on penguins to other travelers, he said.


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