2012-2013 Science Planning Summaries
U.S. Antarctic Program - Science Support Section United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo
The physiological ecology of two Antarctic icons: Emperor penguins and leopard seals

Program Manager:
Dr. Diana Nemergut


ASC POC/Implementer:
Addie Coyac / Elizabeth Kauffman

Dr. Paul Ponganis (Principal Investigator)

Scripps Institution of Oceanography
CMBB (Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine)
La Jolla, California

Supporting Stations:  McMurdo Station
Research Locations:  Beaufort Island / Capes Crozier and Washington

Project Description:
Emperor penguins and leopard seals are iconic, top predators in Antarctica. Their environment now faces the potential threats of climate change, pollution, and overfishing. The physiological ecology of these two species is key to the assessment of their adaptability to environmental change and alterations in prey distribution. Because of the difficulty of studying these animals, many details of their natural history and roles in the Antarctic ecosystem are as yet undocumented. Even less is known about the physiological adaptations that underlie their foraging success and diving behavior at sea. This project will expand knowledge of emperor penguin diving physiology to foraging dives at sea, and to initiate investigation of the foraging behavior/prey intake rate of the rarely studied leopard seal. The work will continue the trend analysis of the Ross Sea emperor penguin population that was begun by Dr. Gerald Kooyman in the 1980’s and continued by this PI through 2008. Such long-term monitoring is needed and is of exceptional value in light of the potential linkage of declines in other emperor penguin populations to climate change.

Field Season Overview:
This is the last field season for this three-year project. Helicopter aerial surveys will be conducted of the Ross Sea emperor penguin colonies at Cape Crozier and possibly Beaufort Island. The Basler will be used for aerial photo censusing of Cape Colbeck on one flight, and Cape Roget, Coulman Island, Cape Washington and Franklin Island on another flight. There are no field deployments or laboratory studies.

Deploying Team Members:

  • Katherine Ponganis
  • Paul Ponganis (PI)

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Curator: Esther L. Hill PhD, Antarctic Support Contract   |   NSF Official: Alexandra Isern, Office of Polar Programs