2002-2003 Science Planning Summary

Biology & Medicine

Dr. Polly Penhale
Program Manager


NSF/OPP 02-24957 (SGER)
Station: McMurdo Station
RPSC POC: Steve Alexander
Research Site(s): Cape Crozier

Effects of B15 on breeding success of the Cape Crozier emperor penguin colony
Dr. Gerald L. Kooyman
University of California San Diego
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Dr. Paul Ponganis
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine

Deploying Team Members: Gerald L Kooyman . Paul J Ponganis
Research Objectives: This project will investigate the effects of the iceberg, B15, on the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes fosteri) population at Cape Crozier. The population of this southernmost of the emperor penguin colonies, although sometimes fluctuating radically, had grown steadily in past years, with as many as 1,200 chicks counted. This probably represented an adult population of 2,400 to 3,000 birds. However, in 2001, after B15 ground into the Cape Crozier area during the winter breeding period, no live emperor chicks were found. The colony had disappeared.

The goal of this project is to determine whether the colony will re-establish itself at Cape Crozier or relocate to a different site nearby. If the colony re-establishes at Cape Crozier, project team members will estimate the previous year's loss with a census of the chicks present this year. The destruction of the colony site by the iceberg in 2001 represents a natural experiment to examine the resilience of breeding emperor penguins to short-term disasters. Broader impacts of this study are related to the historical importance and worldwide interest in this colony, since it was the first emperor penguin colony discovered and has probably the longest census record of any penguin colony.

Field Season Overview:
The arrival of iceberg B15 at Cape Crozier caused much ice movement and habitat destruction at the emperor penguin breeding site. The result was total failure of breeding success at the colony. This year researchers hope to determine how many birds have returned to breed at the colony, how many chicks are likely to fledge, and sea ice conditions at the breeding site. These data will help to assess the possible longterm effects of B15.

Researchers will be flown by helicopter to the hut at Cape Crozier. During that flight they will do a brief aerial survey to determine the location of the birds, and to obtain aerial photographs of the area. While at the Crozier hut they will conduct ground counts and habitat surveys.

If no birds return to Cape Crozier, researchers will make an aerial survey of Price Bay to determine if they have relocated the colony at a new site. If sea ice permits, an aerial and possibly a ground survey of the Beaufort Island colony will be conducted.