Don’t study marine science!!
Heard this one before?
Often students are told not to study marine science because there are no jobs. This was the case for every member of our team - we were all told this but ignored it. Don’t get me wrong, competition for jobs is high so you would probably need to do postgraduate study (after you have finished your undergraduate degree) which will allow you to specialise in an area of marine science. This will be particularly important if you are interested in becoming a research scientist.
Heading South with the Rogers Lab
First read the story below and then watch it live with thanks to National Geographic:
The long version
The short version
At home in Sydney:
While not in the field we sit in front of a computer screen all day doing analysis, writing papers, writing research grants, and working with students.
Before we head off on a field trip there is a lot of preparation that needs to take place before we can go. The first thing that needs to be done is usually a stack of paperwork, there are lots of permits and application forms that need to be submitted. These give us permission to work in Antarctica and on the animals themselves.
Next we need to make sure that we have all the equipment we will need. If anything is missing we need to buy it and then test it before it leaves Sydney. We don’t want to get down to Antarctica and find out that either something doesn’t work or more simply that it needs batteries and we don’t have the right ones with us. Unfortunately there are no Woolies supermarkets down there in case we forget something.
Once we have all the equipment we need we usually run through the use of everything to make sure that everyone going South knows how to use the equipment properly. This training is also a final check in case we have forgotten something (like the batteries).
Once all our bags and gear boxes have been packed and we’ve said goodbye to our family and friends the long journey South begins. Whether travelling by ship or flying down we are at the mercy of the gods. Nothing happens when you think it is going to so packing a few good books is always a good idea.
The first thing we do is see if we can fly the helicopter. If it's cloudy or windy we're grounded. We have breakfast and discuss what we're going to do – we've decided it's a good day so we ring around and get everybody together - we're going to look for some leopard seals.
We get in the helicopter and do a 45 minute survey to get the seals position then we head back to the station.
The boats are already in the water (we put them there earlier) so we jump in and head out to the seals' position as quick as we can. This part of the process is a race as the ice floes that the seals lay on are moving, at about 2 km per hour, with the current so we need to race the floes to find each of the seals.
When we come up to the icefloe and park the boat the seals are generally asleep and we try to keep them that way. The leopard seal is a solitary mammal and can be very dangerous so we need to be very careful. We pick which one we are studying for the day and then begin the process of tagging it (it doesn't hurt it) so we can track its movements when we're back in Sydney. We dart the seal, lay down on the ice and look away so when the seal looks around it doesn't notice us, it thinks it's been bitten by a nearby bird.
After 15 minutes the seal is usually sound asleep so then we put a satellite package on its fur, tag between its flippers like an earring, take heaps of samples like hair and snot and write a name on its side in blonde hair dye. The boat driver usually gets to name the seal, this one is called Wally and it's a girl!
After 30 minutes work the seal wakes up and we move away and watch it. It doesn't remember or feel anything.
2pm - 6pm
We try and fit in another seal for the day because they go hunting by 6pm. As the light is getting low we return to the base generally weaving in and out of the ice bergs. We get back to the station around 5pm today but sometimes we get in as late as 10pm. We drag the boats back to the shed, and while some in the team clean the boats other process the samples in the lab or prepare for the next day. We have scientist that look at lots of things like what they eat – we can tell by looking at its poo and another looks at its hormones from its spit.
We've missed the station dinner so our team catches a quick bite together. On Saturday nights we have a formal dinner and we always try and make it back for that.
8pm – 10pm
We head out to the ice edge and record sounds. The leopard seals are the opera singers of the Antarctica – they sing for 13 hours a day, three minutes on and three minutes off for three months before mating. We put the hydrophone over the edge of the ice but you have to be careful. One guy got the fright of his life when a seal landed on top of him thinking he was a penguin.
The Antarctic sky is beautiful this time of year (Australian summer time). It doesn't get dark - the sky is pink, orange and purple.
It's time to head back in and call it a day…then we do it all again tomorrow.
Generally we spend up to a few months of each year in the Antarctic and then spend the remainder of the year working back in Sydney publishing our research findings.