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Update from Antarctica – What is MISHAP?

A pod of killer whales in Flandres Bay

Fresh from Antarctica, this update comes to us from Dr. Douglas Nowacek, one of the Principal Investigators for the MISHAP project, by way of our field correspondent, Reny Tyson. Follow along with their adventures at Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas.


Spotting whales in Wilhelmina Bay

The Multi-scale and Interdisciplinary Study of Humpbacks and Prey (MISHAP) project seeks to elucidate the ecological role of a poorly studied krill predator, the humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, along the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). Our project combines the expertise and research techniques of cetacean biologists/ecologists with zooplankton biologists and physical oceanographers. Working together we sample whale diving and feeding behavior using advanced tagging technology, quantify the extent and density of krill aggregations using traditional quantitative fisheries acoustics and net sampling, measure the density of other zooplankton in the water column with laser optical plankton counters, describe the water circulation patterns with ADCP and CTD in the areas where we are working with whales, and document the density of humpbacks as well as other krill predators (pinnipeds, sea birds) using established visual observation techniques.

A typical day in the life of MISHAP includes tagging a whale, mapping the prey field (i.e., krill) on both the fine scale around the whale as well as a slightly larger scale (1-5 km) from the ship, conducting visual surveys through the areas where we are mapping krill, and then measuring the physical properties of the waters in the area during the night. Analyzing these various data streams also requires careful and thorough integration and visualization, which we accomplish by having other team members who are experts in geospatial ecology and data visualization. By combining several techniques on multiple temporal and spatial scales we are working to understand the ecology and role of the humpback whale while putting it within the context of other krill predators.

Successful tagging of humpback whale during the 2009 MISHAP expedition

Follow along with us at Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas.

~Dr. Douglas Nowacek