When Ice Melts: Tipping the Scales in the Predator/Prey Arms Race in Antarctica

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The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund aims to protect the last wild places in the ocean while facilitating conservation, research, education, and community development programs in the places we explore. This blog entry spotlights some of the exciting work our grantees are doing with support from the LEX-NG Fund.

A man is poised with a crossbow on an inflatable Zodiac in the Weddell Sea, impressively keeping his balance as the tiny boat pitches in the Antarctic swells. He’s aiming at a killer whale that’s surfaced to breathe. Unlike his predecessors from long ago, he’s not trying to kill the whale. Rather, his crossbow is equipped with a satellite tracking device that he is attempting to attach to the whale’s dorsal fin.

The man is Dr. John Durban, and along with his partners Dr. Holly Fearnbach and Bob Pitman with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, he is conducting research to understand the role of killer whales as top predators in the changing Antarctic ecosystem. With a grant from the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund, this team of scientists makes annual expeditions to Antarctica to carry out their research.

Drs. John Durban and Holly Fearnbach deploy a satellite tracking tag on the dorsal fin of a killer whale. Research Authorized by Antarctic Conservation Act Permit. Photo courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions.

While Antarctica tends to get a bad rap as a frozen wasteland, it’s actually a dazzling wilderness of ice and stone. Offshore, the Southern Ocean is chock full of marine life. Despite the frigid water temperatures—somewhere in the vicinity of 30℉…brrr!—an abundance of marine creatures exist as part of a robust food web.

At the bottom (of the web, not the ocean), is krill. This mini crustacean smaller than your pinky finger is the foundation of the Antarctic food chain. Species from minke whales to —> Read More