Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Penguins, doctors and their southern migration

28 May, 2014
A Charles Sturt University bird expert who has just returned from her 12th Antarctic expedition says penguin species are being forced south due to ice melt.

Ornithology expert Dr Melanie Massaro has at least one thing in common with her main research subject, the Adelie penguin - they both keep moving south. The Charles Sturt University lecturer began her career in Canada, studying northern hemisphere sea birds, before moving to New Zealand and then Australia to focus on Antarctica.

She has just returned from her 12th trip to Antarctica, where her current focus is on the Adelie penguin, which is being forced south due to melting ice at the Antarctic Peninsula. Dr Massaro's first contact with Antarctica came in 1998, when she began working as a nature guide on a tourist boat.
Most of the two day journey, which began at Ushuaia on the southern tip of South America, was occupied by seasickness. "We hit the Drake Passage at midnight and it became really, really rough," she said. "The next morning I got up and literally looked out the windows and I saw my first albatross which was fantastic but I was ... so sick that entire day."

Upon realising that most sea birds resided in the southern hemisphere, Dr Massaro took a job at New Zealand's Otago University, before a meeting with some American researchers moved her focus to Antarctica. She's now part of a program looking broadly at the effect of climate change on Antarctica.

As part of the work, the group sleeps in tents similar to those used on Scott's expedition 100 years ago, and must walk 30 to 45 minutes to the penguin colony each morning. Dr Massaro said Adelie penguins were an indicator species, described by a colleague in a book as "the bellwether of climate change."

"All of the penguin species are actually declining," she said. "Overall, we should be concerned."

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