The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Birds

At the time of the original Australasian Antarctic Expedition penguins were being rendered down for their oil at Macquarie Island, there was a huge whaling industry in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters providing food for scavenging seabirds, fur seals were locally extinct on some islands and very rare on others after a century of persecution, perhaps freeing up food resources that allowed certain bird populations to expand. Fortunately today the subantarctic islands are sanctuaries, the birds fully protected and whaling almost finished. But Southern Ocean birds face new threats: climate change, fisheries bycatch, with oil drilling proposed for New Zealand’s Great South Basin. These current threats are perhaps of much greater significance to southern seabirds than those 100 years ago.

The research program

  1. On the AAE 2013-2014 we set out to discover how seabird populations on the subantarctic islands and at Commonwealth Bay have changed during the last 100 years and to investigate to what extent climate change and changing ice conditions explain the changes observed.
  2. On the AAE 2013-2014 we undertook base line surveys of seabirds breeding on the sub-Antarctic islands and at Commonwealth Bay in order to monitor future changes in their numbers due to climate change and changing ice conditions.

  3. On the AAE 2013-2014 we wanted to find out how seabird numbers and species change as the expedition vessel crossed ocean fronts and convergences.

Research Papers

The impact of the giant iceberg B09B on population size and breeding success of Adelie penguins in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica

Wilson, K.-J., Turney, C., Fogwill, C. and Blair, E.

The arrival of iceberg B09B in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica, and subsequent fast ice expansion has dramatically increased the distance Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) breeding at Cape Denison must travel in search of food. The colony could become extinct within 20 years unless B09B relocates or the now perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out.

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Low numbers and apparent long-term stability of south polar skuas Stercorarius maccormicki at Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica

Wilson, K.-J., Turney, C., Fogwill, C. and Hunter, J.

We censused breeding South Polar skuas (Stercorarius maccormicki) at Cape Denison during 2013 and compared to previous work in the area. We found the population has remained stable over the last century but that the density of birds is lower than elsewhere in the Antarctic.

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