Join APECS and the European Polar Board (EPB) for ‘An introduction to the Arctic Council webinar on 2 November from 17:00-18:00 SAST. If the webinar looks interesting to you (have a look at the synopsis below), register for it here.
The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants. Giving an overview of its structure, including Members, Permanent Participants and Working Groups, this webinar will act as an introduction to the Arctic Council, providing information on its workings, issues of focus, and recent achievements.
This webinar series is jointly organized by APECS and the European Polar Board (EPB).
Marion Island is home to two sympatric fur seal species, the Antarctic (Arctocephalus gazella) and Subantarctic (A. tropicalis) fur seals. At first glance, the untrained eye might find it difficult to distinguish between the females of the species. However, once you spend a little bit of time with them, you quickly learn that they have very different temperaments and actually look quite different from each other. The Antarctic fur seal (AFS) females are fiercely protective of their little ones and when approached, they will generally not move away but try to discourage you from getting too close by a surprisingly deep growl, often also moving in between you and the pup. They are surprisingly fast and one has to be very careful to read their body language and be ready to move away quickly if need be. The Subantarctic fur seal (SAFS) females however, have two strategies…number one is to growl and bark very unhappily (especially the older, more experienced females just lie there staring and growling at you), sometimes charging you to make sure you stay away. Strategy number two is to run like the wind (mostly the younger, inexperienced females), leaving the often startled and confused pup to fend for itself. One can always have another pup next year, right? The two species have very different lactational strategies, with the AFS and SAFS weaning their young at 4 and 11 months, respectively.
The males are however very easy to distinguish from one another. AFS males are huge, weighing up to 200kg. They are a beautiful greyish colour throughout. They also have a very deep growl that always makes me think of a tractor starting up. However, as uncomfortable as that growl can make you feel, their other vocalisation has the opposite effect…I don’t really know how to better explain it than the sound of someone trying to not sneeze too hard, put on repeat! It’s really something very characteristic of this species and once you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget it. It is a sound that always makes me smile! These big boys are also quite predictable with regards to their aggressive behaviour; they will warn you and if you don’t listen, they will charge. And boy, a charging AFS bull can make you run the 50m dash faster than you’ve ever dreamed possible! After you’ve seen these bulls fight each other (often resulting in serious injuries such as a broken jaw or even death), you really don’t want to get bitten by them. I used to call them the “Hulks” of the island. On the other hand, you have the SAFS bulls weighing in at around 160kg. They have dark brownish fur on the backs with a lighter, creamy fur on the underside of the body. These guys remind you of “Johnny Bravo” with all the swagger and the hairstyle too. During the non-breeding season they are generally quite skittish but once the testosterone levels rise a bit just before and during breeding season, they are extremely aggressive and dangerous because they have very unpredictable behaviour. Both of these species are highly territorial, making it impossible to access certain parts of a beach that they have claimed for themselves during the breeding season.
With the large number of animals currently calling Marion their home, it is difficult to imagine that in the earlier sealing days both of these species were hunted to near extinction in the Southern Ocean. Luckily they have been able to recover in the subsequent years. In recent years it has been noted, however, that the SAFS pup populations are declining, while the SAFS pup population are still increasing, albeit at a much slower rate. Reasons for this phenomenon is still unclear. Read more about this in the following article:
Wege et al. (2016). Trend changes in sympatric Subantarctic and Antarctic fur seal pup populations at Marion Island, Southern Ocean. Marine Mammal Science 32(3): 960 – 982. DOI:10.1111/mms/12306
The full scientific article can be obtained from the Journal of Marine Mammal Science or by contacting the authors directly.
The Society of South African Geographers (SSAG) will hold its biennial conference in 2018. The University of the Free State (UFS) will host SSAG members and delegates from 1-7 October 2018 at the UFS Bloemfontein Campus to the theme of ‘Geography and Community: research, learning, impact’. Have a look a the important dates below. More information on the conference is available here, and you can contact the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Call for sessions: 16 November 2017
- Call for abstracts: 30 April 2018 delegates notified of outcome by mid-May
- Payment and registration: 30 June 2018 (early bird: 30 May)
Are you thinking of attending Polar2018? Then join the Facebook group created by the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), which provides useful information on accommodation and travel to and from Davos. Also don’t forget to submit your abstracts by 1 November!
We would like to congratulate everyone who participated in the recent 1st National South African Geography Olympiad (SANGO). A total of 948 learners completed the online Olympiad and the Society of South African Geographers (SSAG) selected 8 top learners, and the top 3 schools! Have a look at all the winners here. And don’t fret, you can participate again in 2018, when SANGO will be held on Tuesday, 15th May 2018.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is offering a remote sensing training course free of charge for attendees during June 2018. The course, offered by the European Space Agency (ESA), along with University of Svalbard, Svalbard Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System (SIOS) and the Norwegian Space Centre, will take place in Longyearbyen, Svalbard from 11-16 June 2018. For more information on the course please have a look here or on their website. The application deadline is 15 December.
During this time of year, Marion Island’s beaches are full of breeding Southern elephant seals (SES), Mirounga leonina, and this season’s pups are already starting to wean. SES pups are born at a weight of approximately 40 kg and grow up to anything between 100-200 kg within 3 weeks of suckling, where after they are weaned and left to fend for themselves. They usually laze away on the beaches for a little while after weaning before they take on the big ocean in search of a hearty meal. In the past it was thought that these juvenile SES feed almost exclusively on fish and squid, but South African scientist have found that crustaceans (presumably sub-Antarctic krill) form a much bigger part of their diet than previously thought. Using stable isotope analysis (carbon and nitrogen) of the whiskers, these scientists could reconstruct the diet of several juvenile SES from Marion Island. Read the full story at: http://doi.org/10.3354/meps12240
Ref: Lübcker N, Reisinger RR, Oosthuizen WC, de Bruyn PJN, van Tonder A, Pistorius PA, Bester MN (2017) Low trophic level diet of juvenile southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina from Marion Island: a stable isotope investigation using vibrissal regrowths. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 577:237-250.
Join APECS and the European Polar Board (EPB) for ‘The Antarctic Treaty and the protection of the environment’ webinar on 23 October from 16:00-17:00 SAST. If the webinar looks interesting to you (have a look at the synopsis below), register for it here.
The Antarctic Treaty, signed in Washington on December 1, 1959, has the purpose to ensure that “in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue for ever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord”. Signed in 1991, the Protocol on Environmental Protection (the Madrid Protocol) to the Treaty, designates Antarctica as “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science”. This webinar will give an overview of how the Antarctic Treaty and its Madrid Protocol work, and how the Treaty system is used to protect the Antarctic environment.
This webinar series is jointly organized by APECS and the European Polar Board (EPB).
The South African polar research vessel, the SA Agulhas II, is heading north into warmer waters for the first time since the start of her “career” in 2012. Read more about this:
Today, 15 October 2017, marks yet another birthday for the Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. For record and analysis purposes, all tagged animals age by one year today. Every year on this day, the sealers (working for the Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme, a University of Pretoria initiative otherwise known as the MIMMP) have one mission: to circumnavigate the entire island in one day to count every single elephant seal hauled out on every single beach! Quite an endeavour, but the sealers take it in their strides…and fast strides they are!
This specific date has been found to be the peak breeding season haul-out for elephant seals on the island. And over the last couple of years, the sealers have managed to count more than 1000 animals on this day, with the numbers increasing ever so slightly with each annual count. This might sound like a lot of elephant seals for such a small island, but this includes adult males, adult females, sub-adults, yearlings, weaners (pups that have just weaned) and black pups (still suckling their moms). Meaning that many of these animals might not grow up to reach adulthood, being able to produce offspring of their own. To put this in perspective, in the history of Marion Island the old sealers (the ones that still killed seals for a living) hunted these animals for quite a number of years (and in large numbers) before it wasn’t considered profitable enough anymore. As there is no accurate account of the numbers of elephant seals on Marion Island before the seal hunting days, one can’t help but wonder what the elephant seal population would have looked like today if those early hunting days never happened.
But for now we are happy to say that the elephant seal hunting days on Marion Island are far behind us and that we take pleasure in studying these amazing marine mammals. There is still so much we don’t know and we look forward to the discoveries that still lie ahead. So let’s wish the “sea elephants” of Marion Island a very happy birthday. May there be many more to come!