When you think about Antarctica, what first comes to mind? I’ve had quite a few people ask me about penguins and polar bears when I first told them I was traveling to Antarctica. Truth be told, polar bears only roam around the Arctic, and penguins only frolic here in the south. The penguins find company with the seals and whales that also live in the Antarctic, or sometimes become dinner for them. These guys are the token mascots for every image that most people conjure of Antarctica. They are also heavily protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act so part of our job when we conduct science is to ensure our science minimally impacts wildlife.
We worry most about our impact on marine wildlife when we conduct seismic surveys. The seismic guns deliver a low energy pulse into the water column, which may have the potential to negatively affect marine mammals if they are exposed to 180 decibels or more in the water. For that reason we have two qualified marine mammal observers, Andrea Walters and me, on-board to ensure we do not injure wildlife during our seismic gun operations. Our science party must also conduct marine mammal observations (MMO) when the ship is breaking ice in order to record how many marine mammals we might be exposing to our operations and to record how icebreaking may alter their behaviors. Icebreaking potentially produces quite a racket that can expose animals within 12 nautical miles to 120 decibels underwater. MMO during icebreaking is a new practice so the data we record will be extremely helpful in understanding how icebreaking impacts the animals. Continue reading