Travel Update

This morning at approximately 0800, we entered the Strait of Magellan. Our first trip through the strait (back in early September) occurred overnight. I was tucked away in my bunk and unable to see the sights due to the lack of light. Today, we entered the strait in bright sunshine and high winds. We will travel a few hours through the mouth of the strait before entering the pilot embarcation area. A Chilean pilot will board the RVIB Palmer to assist in the navigation of the shallow waters of the Strait of Magellan. Prior to leaving for my trip, I was told to be sure and watch the pilot board the ship. In September, the pilot boarded around 0200. I'll admit, I was asleep for that early morning transfer. Due to our glider detour, our entrance to the strait and the pilot pick-up will happen during the daylight hours. The estimate for the pilot's arrival is 1600.

TGIWF

Today marks the last 'Thank Goodness It's Wildlife Friday'. In the past, I have focused on highlighting the species that are found in the waters and on the shores of Antarctica. As we continue to make our way towards Punta Arenas, Chile, I thought I should highlight species that are common to the areas traveled in the past few days.

Commerson's Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus commersonii)

This dolphin species is a common sight in the coastal areas of southern Argentina and the Strait of Magellan. These dolphins were first described by a French physician and botanist named Philibert Commerson in 1767. These small dolphins reach lengths of 5 feet and weight 190 pounds, on average. The Commerson's dolphin has some very distinct physical features that set it apart from many other species in the area:

  • Unique color pattern (white body with black head, forward flippers, dorsal fin and tail)
  • Girth as much as two-thirds of its body length (rotund)
  • Conical head with no noticeable beak
  • Rounded flippers (left flipper is sometimes serrated on the anterior tip)
  • Rounded dorsal (back) fin

Pair of Commerson's dolphins
Two Commerson's dolphin swim through waves in the Strait of Magellan. These dolphins are easy to see under the water because of their distinct coloration pattern.

Commerson's dolphin beak
The round melon and short beak of the Commerson's dolphin is visible as this indiviual breaks the surface of the water. Commerson's dolphins are known for their breaching and wave riding behaviors.

These dolphins eat a variety of prey including small fish, mysid shrimp and other invertebrates. These dolphins have the ability to reach swimming speeds in excess of 10mph and use this speed when foraging for food. They are generally found in small groups, but may congregate in larger groups in some of the shallower waters of the strait.

Albatross (family Diomedeidae)

The albatross are a group of large seabirds that are generally found in open ocean, far from land. Albatross are common in the Southern Ocean and north Pacific Ocean, but are generally not found in the north Atlantic Ocean. There are a number of large birds in the Southern Ocean like the northern giant petrel (Macronectes halli) and the brown skua (Catharacta lonnbergi). Albatrosses, however, are the largest of the flying birds with wingspans reaching a maximum length of 12 feet, in some species. The most commonly accepted number of species of albatross is twenty-one. Albatross, like their petrel 'cousins', use enlarged nasal glands to remove excess salt. Albatross are known for their ability to travel long distances. They use two different, highly efficient soaring techniques in order to travel upwards of 1000km (~620miles) per day.

Soaring albatross
Albatross species with this plummage can be difficult to distinguish. Most likely, this is a southern royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora), however, the plummage is similar to a sub-adult wandering albatross.

Albatross underside
The underside of this albatross shows a mostly white wing with black outlines. The wingspan of this presumed southern royal albatross can reach 6-7ft (3-3.5m) in length.

Many albatross are in decline due to certain types of fishing techniques and pollution. An international agreement called the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP) includes 13 countries working to limit harm and death to these birds. To find out more about ACAP and seabird conservation, visit the ACAP website or the Audubon Advocacy page on the ACAP

Wildlife Round-Up

The following list represents wildlife seen as of 10/14/16. These sightings are based on my personal experience as well as sighting information from others aboard the ship.

Birds

  • Kelp gull (Larus dominicanus)
  • Sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus)
  • Southern Giant-petrel (Macronectes giganteus)
  • Wandering albatross (Diomeea exulans)
  • Black-browed albatross (Thalassacrche melanophrys)
  • Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis)
  • Cape petrel (Daption capense)
  • Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica)
  • Snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea)
  • Brown skua (Catharacta lonnbergi)
  • South polar skua (Catharacta maccormicki)
  • Antarctic shag (Phalacrocorax bransfieldensis)
  • Snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus)
  • Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
  • Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)
  • Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)
  • Magellenic penguin (spheniscus magellanicus)

Snowy sheathbill
The snowy sheathbill (Chionis albus) is the only bird in Antarctica that does not have webbed feet. These "Antarctic chickens" are important for the Antarctic ecosystem because of their vital role as scavengers. Sheathbills are known to eat feces, carcasses and other waste from penguin and seal colonies. Photo courtesy Kris Gomes.

Mammals

  • Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)
  • Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)
  • Killer whale (Orcinus orca)
  • Commerson's dolphin (Cephalorhynchus commersonii)
  • Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx)
  • Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii)
  • Crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophaga)
  • Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephlus gazella)

Weddell seal on ice
This Weddell seal is a common sight on the ice floes off the coast of the Western Antarctica peninsula.

Author
Date
Coordinates
52° 24' 2" S , 68° 53' 50" W
Location
Strait of Magellan
Weather Summary
Sunny and windy
Temperature
6C/43F
Wind Speed
30-40 knots
Wind Chill
-10C/14F
Add Comment

Comments

Cara Pekarcik

Michael - if you look back on my journal about crab eater seals, I think you will be able to figure out my level of excitement.  It was very cool!

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/21/2016 9:00 AM
Subject: Re: Michael Comerford G-block commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

(

Cara Pekarcik

Victoria - I used guide books and internet sources.  Many of them I knew because of my love of animals.  I did need some help with the birds.  There are many different species of birds that live in Antarctica.  I certainly did not see and/or identify even half.

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/21/2016 9:00 AM
Subject: Re: Victoria H, Block G commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

((( R

Cara Pekarcik

Michael - I am really not sure.  Animals evolve coloration patterns for a variety of reasons.

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/21/2016 8:58 AM
Subject: Re: Michael Comerford G-block commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

(

Cindy Zheng (not verified)

How long do Commerson's dolphin live?

Cara Pekarcik

I was not able to find information about life-expectancy for Commerson's dolphins.  The population is not studied on a regular basis, so I am not sure that any research has been done regarding life span.

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/23/2016 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: Cindy Zheng commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

(

Britney B Block B (not verified)

What is the Albaross's current population approximately?

Cara Pekarcik

Britney - there are many different species of albatross and they all have different population numbers.  Some are endangered and other populations are not.  I am not sure of the exact numbers for each species, but information regarding population numbers (if known) can be found at IUCNredlist.org.  

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/23/2016 2:53 PM
Subject: Re: Britney B Block B commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

(((

Donna Xu, Block B (not verified)

Where are dolphins common in the coastal areas of southern Argentina and the Strait of Magellan?

Donna Xu, Block B (not verified)

Where are dolphins common in the coastal areas of southern Argentina and the Strait of Magellan?

Donna Xu, Block B (not verified)

Why does the birds in Antarctica have webbed feet except the snowy sheathbill?

Cara Pekarcik

Hi Donna - these Commerson's dolphins are found all along the coast of southern Argentina and throughout the Strait of Magellan.  There is no specific location - they travel about the area.

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/23/2016 7:18 PM
Subject: Re: Donna Xu, Block B commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

(

Cara Pekarcik

Many birds that live on or around water have webbed feet to help with movement through the water.  The sheathbills do not spend much time paddling in the water - they use their feet to walk on land and to grasp food.  Webbed feet would not be as efficient for these birds. 

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/23/2016 7:25 PM
Subject: Re: Donna Xu, Block B commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

(((

Judy Fahnestock

Wow, that is quite a list of birds and mammals! Are many of these "life-list" species for you? I have never heard of Commerson's dolphins before. Do they act like bottlenose dolphins and swim in front of or near the wake of the boat?

Cara Pekarcik

Hi Judy - many of these animals make the 'life-list', but also the 'once-in-a-lifetime list'. I know that most people don't get the chance
the see many of these species, so I feel extremely privileged. The
leopard seal and orca whale were definitely a highlight for me. I have
also enjoyed seeing so many of the different species of bird. In fact,
I added another to the list just a few minutes ago - the Magellanic
diving petrel.

Even with my background in marine mammals, I didn't know about the
Commerson's dolphins. They do interact with the boat. They were
bow-riding when I photographed them earlier today and just this
afternoon, I saw a pair riding in the wake of the RVIB Palmer. They
don't stay long, so it can be difficult to catch a picture. I was very
fortunate this morning to get such great shots.

On 2016-10-14 08:47, PolarTREC wrote:

Eric Huang Block F (not verified)

How many dolphin species have you have encounter on your trip?

Cara Pekarcik

Eric - this is the only dolphin species.  There are others in the area, but the seas in the open ocean can be too rough for spotting dolphins.  

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/17/2016 3:30 PM
Subject: Re: Eric Huang Block F commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

((

cara lew (not verified)

how does the unique color pattern help commerson's dolphins escape from predators? What goes after the commerson's dolphin?

Alex Soricelli… (not verified)

What was the most common mammal you saw on your trip?

Cara Pekarcik

Hi Cara - I am not sure why/how they developed their specific coloration. Natural selection may have chosen those patterns for
reasons that may not be clear. I was not able to find any major
predators for the Commerson's dolphins.

On 10/18/16 4:35 PM, PolarTREC wrote:

Cara Pekarcik

The most common mammal was the crabeater seal (check the journal from 9-23-16). We saw hundreds of them during the trip - especially when we
were moving very slowly through the ice.

On 10/19/16 4:12 AM, PolarTREC wrote:

Daniel J-T, block E (not verified)

Are the Commerson's Dolphins fairly rare? i know they are easy to see under the water but does that happen often?

Sam (not verified)

I like seeing all the pictures of the wildlife on your trip! what was your favorite animal that you saw?

haysha agudo (not verified)

why does the Commerson's dolphins have a conical head? is it hydrodynamic?

haysha agudo (not verified)

why does the Commerson's dolphins have a conical head? is it hydrodynamic?

Cara Pekarcik

Haysha - this is not a question that I can answer, as it is probably a shape that developed over a long period of evolution.  Most dolphins and porpoises can a hydrodynamic shape similar to a torpedo.

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/20/2016 7:09 AM
Subject: Re: haysha agudo commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

(

Cara Pekarcik

Definitely the leopard seal!

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/20/2016 7:01 AM
Subject: Re: Sam commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

Cara Pekarcik

According to IUCNredlist.com, there is not enough information on the population of Commerson's dolphins to designate the population as endangered, least concern, etc.  I was told by the ship's captain that this is a common area to see these dolphins.  As I mentioned in the journal, this is one of their only known locations in the world.

From: PolarTREC
To:
Sent: 10/20/2016 6:56 AM
Subject: Re: Daniel J-T, block E commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5

((

Michael Comerf… (not verified)

why do the dolphins have the same colors as a orca?

Victoria H, Block G (not verified)

That's a lot of birds and mammals. How were you able to identify what they were? What are some more wildlife found in Antarctica?

Michael Comerf… (not verified)

how cool was it to see all those seals in one place?