Sunday, January 11, 2009

Celebrity Guest Photographer

Family members - you've already seen these. But, I got Aileen's permission to share them for anyone else reading the blog.
For those who don't know her, our daughter, Aileen, is a biologist. She is just about at the end of what I think is at least her 5th trip to the Antarctic peninsula. She does research involving penguins, primarily, but also other sea birds, and various mammals that cohabit with the penguins - like fur seals. On her previous trips, she has lived on one of the islands off the peninsula for roughly 2-4 months or so. This year she is on a different sort of project involving working on a cruise ship (National Geographic), helping with naturalist kinds of duties and then doing census work at the various islands where the ship stops.

She has been sending emails with reports of what they are doing and seeing and, in her last one, she included these three photographs as a sample. They are all on South Georgia Island. The top one is an elephant seal, the next one shows some of the island when she and a friend were on a hike (she's in the red jacket), and the last one is a king penguin with its egg. One of the things we always look forward to the next time we see her after her Antarctic trips is seeing her photographs.

If you're interested in a whole lot more detail, read the text below - her last email. But, otherwise, I just thought it would be fun to show something completely different on my blog, by way of showing something about one of our kids. I actually asked the other one (of our kids) to share some of his photographs on the blog when he was home for Christmas, but he has to format them and it's hard to say how long that will take!

Here is her email report from the last part of her trip:
January 6, 2009

Hello all,

We've just spent the past four days at South Georgia, a sub-Antarctic
island located northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula, and more or less
due west of Cape Horn. The waters just north of the Southern Ocean
are extremely productive biologically and support lots of birds and
mammals. Since there is little land mass available, millions of these
birds and seals crowd onto South Georgia to nest and to have their

One of the most famous residents is the king penguin. These are one
of the biggest of the penguin species, and they have lovely shades of
orange and yellow outlining their black and white pattern. They
aren't particularly afraid of people, since they have no land
predators, and they nest out in the open by the tens of thousands. We
spent several long mornings and afternoons at king penguin colonies
where we'd just park on the outskirts and watch the penguins
displaying and wait for birds to rotate their eggs (which they carry
on their feet). Meanwhile, other penguins would come and go right
next to us, occasionally stopping to try to figure out what we new
critters on the beach were.

At the same sites with the king penguins, we also saw tons of
non-breeding elephant seals and fur seals. The elephant seals have
already finished breeding for the season, and the newly weaned pups
are lying like fat sausages on the beach along with some of the
molting sub-adults. Their main activities at this point are sleeping,
burping, and farting; but, occasionally a pair of younger males will
start fighting – biting at each others necks and bumping chests. The
fur seals are right in the midst of breeding, but owing to the mass
density of fur seals at South Georgia, and their propensity to bite
anyone coming into their territories, we only visited those colonies
via zodiac. Still, these were great views of the swarms of seals.
The fur seal population was nearly exterminated during the sealing
days, and fifty years ago there were only a handful around. The
population has apparently made a strong recovery; people who have
visited here over the years say they saw more seals by far this year
than they ever have before.

South Georgia was also a major site of whaling during the first half
of the twentieth century, and we visited several of the old whaling
stations. While we were in the area, we saw few whales, but in those
days they were able to kill hundreds of whales a day without going far
from shore.

We did some legitimate hiking while we were on the island, including
one beautiful day when the ship dropped us at one point and picked us
up later in the day at another. Another big highlight was getting to
see the nests of light-mantled sooty albatross, one of the most
beautiful birds around. And our trip to South Georgia ended with a
close-up sighting of some southern right whales, a species that is
only just beginning to recover from the whaling days.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, your daughter is very, very talented. 5 trips, awesome. I like the elephant seal in particular, and the way she describes their behavior in such detail. :-)

Traci said...

Aileen is my idol!! I want to be her age again and more adventurous!! Guess I'll just have to make up for lost time!!