Going Home

Antarctica is wonderful! We see so many beautiful things, both living and inanimate, and enjoy immersing ourselves completely in our day to day activities. It is truly a special thing to be able get so singlemindedly caught up in what you are doing, and not have to worry about the trivial distractions that pollute our lives in “ the real world.” Best of all is that we are outdoors in a place where the wildlife considers humans as nothing to fear merely an object of curiosity.
Adelie penguins visit a SCINI site

We had a PolarTREC teacher join us for a day, see her blog at
for another perspective on our work here.
A fragment of platelet ice that was abundant at the site where Yamini visited us

As our alter ego-polar bears, we have found that there is an abundance of easily available prey here. Adelie penguins, Weddell seals, and even Emperor penguins would be easy to capture. That is one reason that Antarctic deserves very special protections, because the animals here are so easily exploited, and are so vulnerable.
Are these edible?

Another stark personal example of the vulnerability of an Antarctic species came from two Emperor penguins that used our camp as a wind break for protection while they were molting. Unlike birds elsewhere, that can only molt a little at a time as they must continuously be able to fly and escape predators, penguins molt all at once. While they are molting they are unable to go into the water, and they have lost a significant portion of their thermal protection. Usually this is not a problem, as there is nothing on land or ice that would force them into the water. However we know that the US icebreaker is planning on driving right through our camp site within the next couple days. We don’t know if the penguins will survive, certainly they will not if they are forced to go into the water, and we doubt they can walk fast enough to escape the icebreaker.
Molting emperor penguins

As polar bear PM mentioned in the last blog, we have been observing the local killer whales, the top predators here. We have seen many mother and calf pairs, and this makes us start thinking about the reproductive needs of polar bears. At the end of summer polar bears dig dens in snowdrifts, where they overwinter and bear their cubs. As summer is drawing to a close here, the polar bears need to find snowdrifts. But, Antarctica is a desert! Only about 6.5 inches of precipitation falls each year in Antarctica. The snow compacts down over years and hundreds of years to form ice and glaciers. So there is lots of ice, but almost no snow. And thus, we have not been able to find any safe places for the mother polar bears to dig dens.
We found ice caves, which were beautiful but not the same as a snow den

Without a way to reproduce successfully, polar bear populations would not survive in Antarctica. So even though we have enjoyed our time here, if we want to survive, we have to return to the Arctic, where we can find enough snow to dig dens, and bear our cubs. We will still have to struggle with the shrinking sea ice and the difficulty of finding food. So we are leaving Antarctica to the penguins, seals and killer whales that were originally here, and leaving the food web intact and stable.
Killer whale and calf in a lead near the ice edge

Thank you for joining us on our adventure!

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Whale of a tale


In our blogs we have chatted about all the different parts of what we do and see, talking about the food network of phytoplankton, krill, penguins and seals. The top of the food chain, though, is the killer whale, which has no natural predators.

The killer whale is also known as the orca whale or blackfish. These whales are found in oceans from the Arctic to the Antarctic and warm tropical oceans between.
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Sonar: seeing under water

I, Polar Bear BS, have been back in the northern hemisphere for several weeks now.  However, this does not mean my work is done!  As the rest of the polar bears continue to gather information about the life under the sea ice in McMurdo Sound, my job is to receive the data back here and try to figure out how much krill and fish are present.  The main tool I am using is a sensitive sonar, called a biological echosounder.

The echosounder works by making a very high pitched chirp noise called a ‘ping,’ and then it listens for echos of that ping from things in the seawater. The both the echosounder’s ping and where it listens from are very directional.  This means that only a narrow cone of seawater outward from the echosounder is sampled.  This helps us to take independent, non-overlapping ‘pictures’ of the water below.  The picture below shows an echosounder on the bottom of a boat (a), and the cone in which it listens.  The resolution of the picture is dependent on several things, including the length of the chirp (b), and the width of the beam (c).  In this case, three fish would be combined into a single data point.

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Ollie Builds an Igloo

Hi kids! This is Ollie the Octopus again, guest posting for Polar Bear PC. Today’s post is about how I built an igloo!

An igloo is a type of shelter made from snow. It was originally built by the Inuit people in Canada and Greenland, but since there’s also snow in Antarctica, I thought, “Why not?”

If you have been living in the tropics all your life and have no idea what an igloo looks like, then here is a link to some pictures.

Now, here is a picture of my (partially-completed) igloo:

Good progress!
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Tracker Cases

Along with programming the tracking units that each of us “polar bears” is carrying, the classrooms built attachment cases. If you were putting a tracking device on a polar bear, how would you attach it so that it was protected and did not interfere with the bears behavior?
Tracker units have to stay on even when the polar bears are fighting!
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