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Researcher on the icefield and French polar ship (from IPEV)
Researcher on the icefield and French polar ship (from IPEV)

Life after Gnaraloo: A one-year penguin research project in Antarctica

News from French ex turtle Matt

During my season at Gnaraloo working for the GTCP, I applied for a paid position as a biologist at the French Polar Institute. After a competitive selection process, several interviews, medical, physical and psychological tests, I finally got the position. My varied experiences as a volunteer scientist or a research coordinator in several scientific programs around the world helped me to win this unique opportunity. Given the field conditions in Antarctica, it was essential for me to have strong previous field experience, a capacity to adapt (I will be working on different protocols, with changing schedules: monitoring at night or early in the morning as well as challenging weather), knowledge of how to work with a team, an ability to take initiatives, develop protocols and be organized.

I’m currently undergoing a 2-month training program with the French Polar Institute in Paris in order to be prepared for the 15-month project in a very particular environment. I have met several senior researchers working on a large scope of studies. I have learnt how to transport penguins and to equip them with different types of loggers, how to take biometric data, blood and tissue samples (the Polar Institute has frozen individuals on which we train). I have learnt how to use specific equipment: loggers, remote-controlled robots, acoustic recorders (to record penguins’ calls), thermal cameras and detectors for the automatic tracking of breeding individuals. I’m currently in regular correspondence with the BBC channel in order to plan a movie shooting on Emperor penguins during the winter 2012.

My research will focus on several aspects:

  • Monitoring of resources and oceanic events within the study area.
  • Study of the reproductive strategies and of the demography of Adelie penguins with a non invasive monitoring system.
  • Description and evaluation of survival mechanisms in an extreme environment: study of management of their energy reserves using protocols of ecophysiology and behavior.
  • Monitoring of huddling behaviours of Emperor penguins and acoustics research.

I’ve already sent away 2 large trunks with everything I will need for more than 1 year (equipment for a polar environment, books, clothing and even hygiene products for 15 months!). I will have 2 weeks to rest and say goodbye to my family and friends between mid-October and mid-November. I can’t wait to see the stunning icefields, to meet the Emperor penguins and to be part of another amazing adventure as Gnaraloo was for me during 2010/11.

The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers.  But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.

Cheers, Turtle Matt

Adelie penguins diving (from IPEV)
Adelie penguins diving (from IPEV)
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