EAGER: Collaborative Research: Acoustic Ecology of Foraging Antarctic Blue Whales in the Vicinity of Antarctic Krill
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Understanding the interaction between blue whales and their prey is essential for understanding Antarctic ecosystem dynamics. In the austral summer of 2019 an international interdisciplinary research voyage will head to the Antarctic with the overall goal of mapping Antarctic krill and blue whale distributions to determine if foraging preferences of blue whales are dictated in part by the density and shape of Antarctic krill swarms. This research voyage will combine advanced research technologies (including autonomous underwater vehicles, short term-tags, photogrammetry, and ship-based, real-time passive listening and active echosounders) to answer questions about how the density, swarm shape and behavior of Antarctic krill influence Antarctic blue whales. U.S. participation on this voyage on an Australian research vessel will allow collection of concurrent predator and prey data through the use of passive listening and echosounders from a fixed mooring. By coupling moored data collection with the ship-based survey focusing on Antarctic blue whale behavior and krill dynamics, the project will contribute to the understanding of basic questions relating to the dynamics between blue whales and their prey as well as adding to the development of instrumentation and technologies that will enhance current capabilities for in situ observing on the continent and the surrounding ice-covered waters. The project will provide an educational platform for high school students and the general public to virtually experience Antarctica via "virtual sailing" through a project website and blog. Students and the general public also will be allowed the opportunity to participate in post-cruise data analysis.The Australian Antarctic Division and the University of Tasmania will lead an international voyage to the Antarctic in the austral summer of 2019. The overall goal of the voyage will be to map Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) distributions to determine if the foraging preferences of blue whales are dictated in part by the density and shape of Antarctic krill swarms. US participation in voyage will entail the deployment of passive and active acoustic instrumentation on a fixed mooring in concert with real-time acoustic and visual tracking and localizing of blue whales that will then allow better directing of ship operations towards aggregations of animals such that fine-scale acoustic tracking and prey field mapping can be achieved. This approach will be the first time such an acoustic system is deployed in Antarctica and used in an integrative fashion to assess foraging behaviors and krill. Thus, the project will advance understanding of the relationships between the acoustic ecology of blue whales, krill abundance, and blue whale densities. The technology deployment and testing will also be used to assess its potential use in ice-covered waters for similar studies in the future. Broader impacts of this project will occur through outreach and education, as well as through the collaborations with the broader international scientific community. The project will provide educational platforms for high school students and general public to virtually experience Antarctica. Research findings will be communicated to both the scientific community and the wider public through peer-reviewed publications, presentations, student lectures, seminars and communication through appropriate media channels by institutional communications teams.This award reflects NSF''s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation''s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.