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Thursday, December 6, 2007: Antarctic Hitchikers
Today we made the long trip out to Cape Royds one more time, to take advantage of a hole that David Ainley, Adelie penguin researcher extraordinaire, had for a current meter. My interest in sampling in this location is based on the penguins, but not just because they are oh-so-cute…

An Adelie penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae, poses for the camera.


But because there are lots of them, and they poop. The colony has about 2000 breeding pairs, who at this point are incubating eggs. As it was a mildly blustery day, the penguins were all head on into the wind, with the precious eggs tucked well out of sight. The buildup of guano from these birds is impressive, though perhaps not as stinky as guano piles in more temperate climates. During the warmest months, snow from the heights melts, runs into Pony Lake, and eventually through Pony Stream into the ocean.

A guano deposit from years of penguin occupation at the colony at Cape Royds.

Are you seeing why I find this interesting? The penguin poo is a source of organic or food material in a food-poor environment. Many benthic animals in the Antarctic respond rapidly and strongly to food input; some, such as seastars, are mobile and move in quickly to feed, others, such as worms, settle from the plankton and grow and reproduce rapidly. These opportunists change the community structure. I’d like to determine if there is a different ecology adjacent to food sources like penguin and seal colonies.

The seastars Odontaster validus have a “dine and dash” strategy.

When I returned from my dive I was surprised that the number of tenders had doubled from 2 to 4. As we were kind of out in the middle of the seaice, I wondered where they had come from. When I got enough gear off and my lips warmed up enough to form a coherent sentence, I learned that Hugh and Chris were with PolarDiscovery, and as the wind was blowing, their helicopter ride back to McMurdo had not shown up for the second day. They wanted to know if they could hitch a ride back to town with us. They gave us chocolate, so we were happy to accommodate ☺. You can see more of their adventures at

Our long day was rewarded with this beautiful view of the Barne Glacier in front of Mt. Erebus. A good end to a day that started with Nick singing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" to me on the comms box.

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.