Copacabana Situation Reports 2022
These reports highlight science activities and events from the U.S. Antarctic Marine Living Resources Program Field Camp in Copacabana (Copa) – King George Island, Antarctica.
U.S AMLR Program 2022 Copacabana Field Team:
- Dr. Jefferson Hinke, Camp Leader and Head of Seabird Studies
- Dr. Trevor Joyce, seabird expert
- Tammy Russell, Ph.D. candidate and seabird expert
Situation Report 1: Arrival
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our travel to Antarctica was interrupted by mandatory quarantines and logistics snafus along the way. Upon arrival in Santiago, Chile on Monday, January 3rd, we received a COVID test and quarantined for one night. Following negative test results, we continued on to Punta Arenas, Chile where we used a 24-hour travel cushion to inspect cargo and make preparations for our next quarantine. On Wednesday, January 5th, we entered a mandatory seven-day quarantine and endured two additional deep-cleaning nasal swabs for testing before completing our journey south to Copacabana. We flew from Punta Arenas to the Teniente Marsh on King George Island. Upon arrival we learned that several pieces of cargo had not been loaded on our flight, including our email system, GPS units, and 2 fixed-wing drones that feature prominently in our science plans for the year. Colleagues at the Chilean Research Station Escudero graciously offered to coordinate delivery of our missing cargo, though with no certainty on the timing. Around 10:00 p.m. we embarked on the Chilean Naval vessel Galvarino for a short ride from Maxwell Bay to Admiralty Bay. We reached Arctowski, the Polish Antarctic research station, at 1:30 a.m. Due to the late hour and near darkness, we were provided bunks for the night. Our journey to Copacabana finally concluded at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 13th, where we and most of our cargo were disembarked on the
beach in front of our huts by a Polish zodiac crew.
In a stroke of unbelievable luck, our missing cargo arrived at Copacabana a day later. It was delivered by the crew of the Chilean research vessel Karpuj, along with a misplaced box of dairy and juice. There was much rejoicing in camp! We are extremely grateful for the assistance of our port agent AGUNSA, DAP Airlines, the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH), the science team at Arctowski, and the Karpuj for coordinating the rapid delivery of our gear.
Our research commenced on Friday, January 14th. The advanced breeding stage in the colonies precludes all telemetry studies on gentoo and Adélie penguins this year. The age and mobility of chicks also dictated an immediate census of gentoo chicks in the Copacabana colonies. We required two days to complete the census, counting 9489 gentoo chicks. This represents the second highest count of gentoo chicks at Copacabana, but is 15% less than the record of 11,255 recorded in January 2019. Of note, the entire breeding area located on the bluff behind the main camp appears to have been abandoned this year, with no evidence of active nesting in that area.
On Sunday, January 16th, we counted the Adélie penguin chicks in the Copacabana colonies, recording 1974 chicks. While not the lowest chick production recorded here (731 in January 2010), it represents a 40% drop since our last census in 2019.
The population of king penguins has remained steady at one individual since our last visit in 2019. A lone female, bearing a flipper band N-9990, was observed wandering near the large Adélie colonies on January 13th. On January 16th, the same bird was incubating an egg.
The weather has allowed us to conduct seven mapping flights with our fixed-wing drone. We have flown aerial surveys over all active penguin breeding colonies in the Copacabana area. These surveys will provide georeferenced mosaics of the colonies, detailed elevation models, and a photographic record of chick abundance that coincides with our manual ground counts.
Vacant for two years, Copacabana was returned to operational status without issue. All electrical, communications, cooking, heat, and water systems were intact and functional. No major damage to camp structures was present, though one plastic crate containing several new propane tanks had filled with water, and wood rot in the floors of the main hut bunk room and front deck have worsened. Failed deck planks have been identified or removed and are scheduled for replacement. Ever-present mold was no worse than normal. We also staged our canoe near the Ecology Glacier for crossing the lagoon to access additional bird habitats and Arctowski station.
Camp Life and Administration
Finally, we report the observation of several fin and humpback whales in Admiralty Bay. Aggregations of penguins and several whales were observed just south of camp for most of the day on January 16th.
In camp life, we continue to unpack and organize our space. The rotation of cooking duties is producing excellent meals and satisfied, satiated campers. The prospects for a fantastic three more weeks in camp are good.
Situation Report 2: January 23, 2022
A major objective for our field season was to conduct beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations with a small unmanned aerial system (UAS), which we successfully completed on Monday, January 17th. We notified surrounding bases in Admiralty Bay and the nearby Teniente Marsh Aerodrome to deconflict the airspace and launched our fixed wing UAS at 10:22 a.m. The mission required a short flight, lasting just 22 minutes, for a high-resolution aerial survey of the entire penguin nesting areas at Rakusa Point, near the Polish Antarctic Research Station, Arctowski. To our knowledge, this is the first small UAS BVLOS mission conducted by a NMFS team and may help facilitate an expanded range of small UAS operations for NOAA.
Following our successful UAS mission, we hiked to the colonies we had just surveyed and conducted a manual census of Adélie penguin chicks as per our standard monitoring protocols. In our index colonies, we counted only 1007 live Adélie chicks, a near-60% decline from the last census in January 2019. It is not clear whether chick survival was unusually low this year, or whether adult returns to the colony were also low.
We retrieved images from our remote camera network of 16 cameras that are operating in Adélie and gentoo penguin breeding areas. Unfortunately, four of seven cameras at gentoo penguin colonies and one of nine cameras at Adélie penguin colonies failed during the winter. One camera suffered a battery failure, three encountered errors with their SD cards, and one was missing an SD card entirely. A quick review of photos suggested a very dry breeding season, with no major snow storms and generally little snow accumulation in the colonies. Such storms and snow accumulation early in the breeding season are typical drivers of large-scale reproductive failure events. The lack of such events in the photo series this year suggests something other than local environmental drivers for low chick production.
This week we also initiated krill measurements and guano collections. Collections of krill from penguin diets are continuing, but initial results indicate a pulse of krill recruitment. We are finding numerous juvenile krill in gentoo and Adélie diets. The distribution of juvenile krill sizes has a mode of 28 mm. Adult krill continue to dominate our samples numerically, however, with a modal size of 44 mm.
Despite an initial assessment that telemetry studies would be difficult to complete this year given the advanced breeding stages of all penguins, we have nonetheless pushed our luck and began collecting video and telemetry data from several chinstrap and gentoo penguins in the Copacabana colonies. To date we have deployed instruments on three chinstrap and five gentoo individuals, collecting several hours of video during foraging trips, along with depth, accelerometer, and location data. Tag recovery and data analysis is pending, but one chinstrap penguin appears to have foraged along the face of icefalls to depths near 100 m within Mackellar Inlet in the far northern reaches of Admiralty Bay.
This week we visited 83 known breeding territories for brown and South Polar skuas that breed near Copacabana Field Camp and Arctowski Station. Skuas are major avian predators of penguin eggs and chicks. We encountered 61 active territories with a total of 61 live chicks, suggesting high reproductive success among breeding birds this year.
Last but not least in our research adventures, the final stages of the Adélie penguin breeding season are upon us. On Saturday, January 22nd, the first Adélie penguin fledglings were observed on the beach preparing to depart for their first winter of independence. Accordingly, we initiated our annual study of fledgling weights to assess fledgling body condition. This study will continue through the coming week as the Adélie colonies empty for the year.
We replaced our stove and made minor modifications to the shelving above the stove to accommodate a slightly taller footprint. The new stove replaces a unit originally installed in 2005/06. Unfortunately, upon first use of the oven, the outer pane of a dual pane window shattered while heating. The oven remains functional, but the search is on for replacement parts. The microwave oven also failed this year, leaving us to wonder whom we have offended to deprive us of convenient reheating options. We also assembled a new garden cart to replace an old rusted and broken cart.
Camp Life and Administration
This year at camp, we have Tammy Russell, comedienne and joker writer extraordinaire. And so, we would like to introduce the first joke section of a camp situation report.
Why do we call our camp Cope? 🡪 Because there’s NOAA
What did the chinstrap penguin do when a lady gentoo penguin fell on it? 🡪 Flipper off
Why didn’t the seabird stop for gas? 🡪 Because it was a giant petrel
Why did the albatross get lost? 🡪 Because it was wandering
Situation Report 3: January 30, 2022
Due to an unexpected change in ship scheduling, our field season is ending sooner than planned. We expect to close camp on Monday, January 31st, roughly five days too soon. Nonetheless, our short season was productive and we depart with only one major objective (visiting Patelnia chinstrap and skua colonies) incomplete.
This week we completed our annual study of Adélie penguin fledge weights. We caught and weighed 179 young Adélie penguins as they departed the colony for the first time. The average fledgling weighed 3194 g, equivalent to the average weight (3163 g) observed here at Copa over the last four decades.
Antarctic krill are a major food item for penguins and we completed our annual collections of krill eaten by penguins this week. On average, the krill measured 43 mm, but the pronounced presence of juvenile krill (< 35 mm) remains, accounting for roughly 11% of our measurements. The last time small krill were present in relatively high numbers was 2017/18 when 13% of the krill consumed were juveniles.
We successfully retrieved all telemetry instruments from chinstrap and gentoo penguins, totaling roughly 21 foraging trips and 31 hours of at-sea video observations. We took advantage of a new multi-sensor tag to collect video, depth, temperature, accelerometer, and location data from two deployments. We are eager to analyze this integrated data set to learn more about penguin foraging behaviors.
We also report the successful use of a no-adhesive attachment method for all our deployments. Traditionally, we used super glue for attaching the tags to the feathers of the birds, but the tide is shifting toward less invasive methods. The method we used was adapted from other tagging programs and uses a waterproof cloth tape. Upon recovery, all tags were snug and were removed with minimal damage to the underlying feathers. We will promote this new protocol to our standard method for all future summer deployments.
This week saw a large number of kilometers added to the hiking odometer. We visited skua territories at both Demay/Uchatka and Italian Valley. Within this walking range of Copacabana, we visited a total of 175 known breeding territories and recorded the locations and identities of the territory holders, if present. In those territories, we identified 103 active nests that held 111 live chicks or eggs. The percentage of active territories at this point in time is higher than several recent surveys, suggesting good conditions for brown and South Polar skuas this year.
While at Demay and Uchatka, we counted the chinstrap penguin chicks. As with Adélie and gentoo penguins, the chick count was low. We counted only 69 live chicks, representing a 56% decline from our last census in the 2019/20 field season and a 96% decline since our highest estimates of chick production in the late 1980s. Back at Copacabana colony, however, we counted 16 live chinstrap chicks. This small number continues an upward, albeit slow, trend in the breeding population near camp that had been extirpated in 1995 but reappeared in 2008.
Prior to camp closing, we also conducted a count of live giant petrel chicks. In total across 13 aggregations of nesting giant petrels in the vicinity of the Copacabana colonies, we counted 136 chicks. This count is above average for giant petrel chick production as estimated for the Copacabana colonies since the late 1970s, but is likely to be biased high because the count we report precedes the standard census timing by nearly a month. With observations from some of our nest cameras, we may be able to update this estimate based on chick mortalities between now and early March.
Speaking of cameras, we re-deployed 17 nests cameras with fresh batteries and empty memory cards for the upcoming 2022/23 field season. With luck, all cameras will operate without failure until our next visit to camp.
Finally, we continued our streak of success with drone operations in a short weather break on Tuesday, January 25th. We conducted two line-of-sight flights over the Copacabana colonies to produce high-altitude (400 ft) mosaics of the nesting areas for penguins, skuas, and giant petrels. We then completed two additional beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights to survey analogous habitats on the far side of Ecology Glacier near the Polish Antarctic research station, Arctowski. All flights were flawless and we are eager to process the photos.
A rainy day on Monday, January 24th topped off all water storage capacity in camp.
The camp was also upgraded in a couple ways this week. We successfully installed and tested our new propane freezer, replacing an old unit that had failed several years ago. And during an inventory of our attic, we discovered a brand new (but at least 10 years old) microwave to replace the unit that failed last week. However, this new/old microwave is not compatible with our current AC power supply. Our convenient reheating option now requires the inconvenience of running our gas generator.
In camp closing activities, we have retrieved our canoe, scrubbed the laboratory floor, culled expired food from our pantry (note that expired means that the packaging is at risk of imminent failure and has nothing to do with the date of expiration on the package!), and have endeavored to leave camp a bit cleaner and more organized than we found it. Camp closing activities continue and we’ll provide a camp closing sit rep once safely ashore in warmer climes.
Camp Life and Administration
More jokes from the cast and crew of Copacabana, 2022:
What do you call interpretive dance on skis? 🡪 Art-o-ski (Arctowski)
What do you call a slow moving sculpture? 🡪 A clacier
What do you call a penguin biologist who’s adamant he’s a fish biologist? 🡪 A steelhead
Why couldn’t the pinniped go on the roller coaster? 🡪 Because it was a Weddel seal
Closing - Situation Report 4: January 31, 2022
Camp Closing Activities
Copacabana Field Camp is closed for the 2021/22 season. We thank all those who helped ensure a safe and productive field season, particularly personnel from the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH), the Chilean transport company DAP, the Polish Antarctic base Arctowski, and our port agent AGUNSA who supported our travel and ever-evolving logistics. For the camp close, the DAP Antarctic Support Vessel Betanzos arrived at Copacabana at 1:45 p.m. and dispatched two Zodiacs to retrieve the trash, cargo, and the research team from the beach in front of the camp. Operations began around 2:00 p.m. and required three Zodiac trips to extract everything. We are grateful for the efficient operations, calm seas, and light winds amid a heavy flurry of snow that made the transfer from shore to ship enjoyable.
We were able to remove all trash from the season, including several bags of cardboard and Styrofoam packing from the new appliances and mattresses that were delivered last year. During our beach operations, a Zodiac from Arctowski arrived to pick-up several food items left over from our shortened season. They also helped by removing two totes of scrap metal and we made arrangements for them to remove the old propane freezer, stove, and microwave oven that were replaced this year when their resupply ship visits in the coming weeks.
All electrical, heat, and water systems at the camp were in good working order at closing. The buildings remain sound, though wood rot on the floor in the main hut bunk room is growing. Paint, window covers, exterior framing, and several exterior doors need attention in the coming years. Three new doors that were delivered to the camp last year remain on site for installation when time and conditions permit.
A large amount of scrap lumber, unused supplies, antiquated spare parts, and miscellaneous building materials remain at the camp for removal in the future. Coordinating a ship visit while NOAA personnel are in camp would be advantageous.
Following camp closing activities, all personnel were embarked on the Betanzos for transit to Maxwell Bay to await a departing flight to Punta Arenas. At present, we are encamped in the conference room of the Betanzos, searching gear for the source(s) of overly strong odors, and cautiously confident that our flight back to Chile will depart before the end of time.