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Cara Pekarcik's picture

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 dolphinsTwo 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 beakThe 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 albatrossAlbatross 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 undersideThe 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 sheathbillThe 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 iceThis Weddell seal is a common sight on the ice floes off the coast of the Western Antarctica peninsula.

Comments

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Judy Fahnestock's picture

Judy Fahnestock said:

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's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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's picture

Eric Huang Block F said:

How many dolphin species have you have encounter on your trip?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/17/2016 3:30 PM Subject: Re: Eric Huang Block F commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 ((
cara lew's picture

cara lew said:

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

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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:
Alex Soricelli, Block F's picture

Alex Soricelli,... said:

What was the most common mammal you saw on your trip?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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's picture

Daniel J-T, block E said:

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

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/20/2016 6:56 AM Subject: Re: Daniel J-T, block E commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 ((
Sam's picture

Sam said:

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

Cara Pekarcik replied:

Definitely the leopard seal! From: PolarTREC <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/20/2016 7:01 AM Subject: Re: Sam commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5
haysha agudo's picture

haysha agudo said:

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

haysha agudo said:

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

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/20/2016 7:09 AM Subject: Re: haysha agudo commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 (
Michael Comerford G-block's picture

Michael Comerfo... said:

why do the dolphins have the same colors as a orca?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

Michael - I am really not sure.  Animals evolve coloration patterns for a variety of reasons. From: PolarTREC <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/21/2016 8:58 AM Subject: Re: Michael Comerford G-block commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 (
Victoria H, Block G's picture

Victoria H, Block G said:

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?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/21/2016 9:00 AM Subject: Re: Victoria H, Block G commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 ((( R
Michael Comerford G-block's picture

Michael Comerfo... said:

how cool was it to see all those seals in one place?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/21/2016 9:00 AM Subject: Re: Michael Comerford G-block commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 (
Cindy Zheng's picture

Cindy Zheng said:

How long do Commerson's dolphin live?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/23/2016 12:10 PM Subject: Re: Cindy Zheng commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 (
Britney B Block B's picture

Britney B Block B said:

What is the Albaross's current population approximately?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/23/2016 2:53 PM Subject: Re: Britney B Block B commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 (((
Donna Xu, Block B's picture

Donna Xu, Block B said:

Where are dolphins common in the coastal areas of southern Argentina and the Strait of Magellan?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/23/2016 7:18 PM Subject: Re: Donna Xu, Block B commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 (
Donna Xu, Block B's picture

Donna Xu, Block B said:

Where are dolphins common in the coastal areas of southern Argentina and the Strait of Magellan?
Donna Xu, Block B's picture

Donna Xu, Block B said:

Why does the birds in Antarctica have webbed feet except the snowy sheathbill?
Cara Pekarcik's picture

Cara Pekarcik replied:

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 <webmaster@polartrec.com> To: <cpekarcik@polartrec.com> Sent: 10/23/2016 7:25 PM Subject: Re: Donna Xu, Block B commented on 14 October 2016 TGIWF #5 (((