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UC launches special research project to help Antarctic seals

UC launches special research project to help Antarctic seals and penguins
February 17, 2013
The University of Canterbury (UC) is launching a new research project to help seals and penguins in the Antarctic.
UC’s Gateway Antarctica director Professor Bryan Storey announced today the special project would be led by a new scientist with the UC team, Dr Regina Eisert.
Funding for the five year project has been provided by the United Nations Environment Programme through the National Committee for the Republic of Korea.
``The Antarctic is facing two big challenges, climate change and human exploitation of marine resources in the Southern Ocean,’’ Professor Storey said.
``It is our mission to study how change will affect individual species and the ecosystem as a whole, and to train the next generation of Antarctic researchers. Without knowledge or skilled, dedicated people, we cannot protect Antarctic wildlife.
``Our research project aims to address the impact of future change on seals, penguins, seabirds and whales, and how best to negate the effects of human activities such as fisheries.
``Antarctic predators such as seals and penguins have special ecological significance. They function as sentinel species and have a disproportionate effect on ecosystem function. Yet our understanding
of dependencies and vulnerability to change in Antarctica is severely limited by lack of data,’’ Professor Storey said.
Seals and penguins were ideal species to assess threats to the Antarctic because they seasonally congregate on and near Ross Island, where they are uniquely accessible and permit rigorous scientific study.
The UC research team will be studying the seals who must raise their young to independence and complete an annual moult during the brief Antarctic summer. Because no instruments can be attached to seals during the moult, little is known about their behaviour during this period.
UC scientists will monitor seals remotely from December to February by installing digital still cameras in the area. This postgraduate work will provide solid data on information that is currently not available.
``Building on a long tradition of Antarctic research at UC, we have access to unique historic samples of seals and penguins dating back 100 years.
``Our research is dedicated to training the next generation of scientists and professionals and to instil a sense of excitement for the unique natural wonder that is Antarctica,’’ Professor Storey said.


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