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.
One of the few adult penguins at Cape Denison
Explaining the science of bird research on the subantarctic islands
The impact of iceberg B09B on the Adélie penguin colony at Cape Denison
The research program
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.
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.
The Southern Ocean plays a fundamental role in global climate but suffers from a dearth of observational data. As the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014 we have developed the first annually-resolved temperature record using trees from subantarctic southwest Pacific (52˚-54˚S) to extend the climate record back to 1870. With modeling we show today’s high climate variability became established in the ~1940s and likely driven by an atmospheric signal that originated in the tropical Pacific. Our results suggest that the influence of contemporary equatorial Pacific temperatures may now be a permanent feature across the mid- to high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, with substantial impacts on seabird and mammal populations.Download
Information on the distribution and abundance of sub-Antarctic seabirds is of key importance given the impact of anthropogenic climate change and associated marine changes on food availability. Particularly vulnerable are seabirds which forage locally, breed on remote islands, or those near the southern or northern limits of their distributions. Here we report new breeding records informing on the distribution and abundance of seabirds on the Auckland Islands, Campbell Island and The SnaresDownload
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.Download
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.Download