Antarctic minke whale tagging
Australian Antarctic Division Chief Scientist – Dr Nick Gales
This was a combined voyage with the United States Antarctic Program and its actually focusing on both humpbacks and minke whales. The idea is to work in a place in Antarctica where both animals are feeding and have a look at how they feed differently.
Went down to a place called the Gerlache Strait, which is a beautifully protected stretch of water in among the islands off the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula and worked in the Bays there. It’s really productive, it’s an area where a lot of Antarctic krill move through the whole area. Sort of size of prey/patches at different depth and we have no idea what those are. So this was actually for minke whales, our first real insight into the differences between these two key species.
So we are using a whole range of different tags that are giving us different information and at the same time we have tags on we have boats going round looking at the prey, the depths at it and what’s in their environment.
So we go from the very short term tags, and we have to get these ones back, so you put a tag on the back of an animal, it’s held on by suction cups and it will stay on there for hours to perhaps one day. And then it will just fall off naturally, the suction cups will give up and it will float to the surface and we will retrieve it. And it measures everything. So we can tell the number of tail fluke strokes on the way down to the prey, pitch and role and turning through the prey and everything, so we get incredibly dense information and at the same time we measure with echo sounds from a separate boat where the krill are.
And then another type that we stick on the animal that have to stay longer. So these are fired through the skin of the animal and then they just embed in the blubber and the underlying tissue just below the blubber and they stay on, well we hope, for months. They just give us location, but they give us the middle to large scale movements of the whales. So where they go from those summer feeding grounds, how they move around those summer feeding grounds and we hope they last long enough to tell us where they go for their winter breeding.
We had no idea how minke whales were going to act around the small boat. They are a much smaller whale than the type of whales that we have a lot of experience in tagging and they are much faster. So the boat driver sits alongside a group of minke whales and slowly comes in on the boat until we are just part of a school of whales and then they are surfacing around us. Then it’s a matter of me on the bow, selecting a whale and then when that animal surfaces in the right range and the right distance from the boat shooting a tag onto the back of that whale. So it’s quite tense, but it’s really exciting when we successfully deploy the tags.
This summer is the very first time ever that these type of tags have been put on Antarctic minke whales, in fact any type of tag. So it’s really exciting we are going to combine the data and really bring forward brand new information about this species.
Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke visits Antarctica
Director Australian Antarctic Division Dr Tony Fleming
It’s my absolute pleasure to welcome Bob Hawke to Wilkins and Antarctica. He changed the world’s mind about mining in Antarctica and we are indebted to you for that.
Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke
What was going to happen beforehand was a thing called CRAMRA, which was going to be a Convention for Regulating Antarctic Mineral Resource Activity. I said that’s ridiculous, I just could not believe that civilized nations of the world were going to really destroy the pristine quality of the last remaining and pristine continent.
You just imagine mining down here and the accidents that could have occurred, so I was determined that this wouldn’t happen. People said we had no chance, but with the cooperation of my good friend Roccard, the Prime Minister of France, and Felipe Gonzalez, from Spain. We just set about and we turned it over, which was marvelous and now it’s fulfilled my nomination of it as nature reserve, land of science, and that’s what it is.
I am sort of prejudice of course I’ve got a great sense of almost proprietorship of the place because we’ve been involved in seeing that it was preserved. Therefore it’s almost impossible to describe the feeling of pride and excitement that I have being here. The other immediate impression I have is the enthusiasm of the, all the people, that are here, they are doing a great job for Australia. They are here with the total support and endorsement of the Australian nation and the Australian Government.
The work that they are doing is not only important for Australia but important for the world as a whole. And they should I think feel proud of themselves for the contribution that their colleagues in the past have made and that they are making now. I would like to congratulate the Australian Antarctic Division. I think the work that you are doing in protecting the Australian commitment and involvement in this area and doing it in such a constructive way is a matter in which you should all be very proud and all Australians should feel very much in debt to the fine work the Division has been doing over the years and continues to do.
What are you waiting for?
What are you waiting for? Apply for your dream job.
>> ROB BRYSON, SECTION MANAGER, AAD: You’re going to a unique environment that not many people have had the opportunity to go to, and you can't put a dollar value on that I don’t think.
>> KELDYN FRANCIS, PLUMBER, MAWSON STATION: Just do it! I’ve got the best job in the world.
>> ROB: You’re talking about only 300,000 people in the history of humanity who’ve had their feet on the ground in Antarctica; and those people out there can actually be one of those people. We’ve got a variety of different positions running from plumbers, carpenters, all the way up to station leaders; doctors, voyage leaders, looking after our IT and networks across all of our four stations. We’re looking for a particular type of person; it’s really critical that we get the right person for the right job. Last year we got about 2100 applications for 100 to 120 positions. This year we’re down at about 1200 so it’s been a pretty dramatic drop-off in the last 12 months.
>> KELDYN: It’s always been a dream and to be able to go down there and to do a job I love in such a unique environment would be really rewarding. When I was a first year apprentice I looked at it way back then and saw the opportunity, but it's all about timing and now I’ve got the skills to be able to go and do it, I’m ready for the challenge. There are other areas that are perhaps more attractive in terms of the money but we’ve got to think here that the experience is what we’re looking for. Everyone goes into such a unique environment where not many people get to see and people pay thousands to see on holidays. I’ve been doing medical training, so if there’s an emergency to help the doctor out in surgery. We do the SAR training today, fire-fighting training. Also you’re helping out each other and we’re all there as a team. I’m going to one of the best continents on earth. It’s something that’s going to be with me for the rest of my life.
SIPEX 2 Antarctic krill pumps
Mr Rob King – Australian Antarctic Division krill aquarium manager
On SIPEX II we have a challenge of trying to sample krill through sea ice. So firstly we have to find a way of getting to them. Now if we have got clear water we can drop a net in, that’s fine. But if we don’t have clear water we need to make a hole in the ice and try and pump seawater through that hole. We have two different pumps for doing that. One is a portable one that goes out on a sled, the other is this one here, which is a much heavier unit that pumps more water per minute. We can move about 400 litres per minute through this pump.
By using this we can pump water containing krill and krill larvae up to the surface where we filter them out on this screen. This separator is doing exactly the same thing that the baleen in a whale does, it’s straining out the krill and letting the water go through. The idea being that we produce a sample of krill that is alive and well so we can run them in physiological experiments.
This is the first time to my knowledge that we have tried pumping using a fish pump in the Antarctic and it’s an approach that we are exploring as experimental technique. The key to sampling in this challenging environment is a multi-pronged approach. You’ve got to take a whole bunch of things so you can get something that works.