1 December, 1999
Wednesday December 01, 1999
Got out of bed at about 0835 hours almost 6 hours of glorious sleep. Cleaned up and then went over to the Crary lab. Here I spent until 1600 hours typing my journal, answering email and tying to organize pictures. I really did not feel well so returned to my dorm to nap until 1900 hours. I decided that I wanted a hamburger for dinner and tonight, beginning at 1900 at Gallagher's they would be on sale. I no sooner feel asleep then the phone rang, it was someone was looking for my roommate. OK another good idea down the tubes. So I got up and meandered over to the galley.
While sitting there I got talking with a fellow named Gregg who had been involved with a project studying the biology of emperor penguins. He was a member of the penguin ranch, a place off Cape Royds where emperors are captured and brought back to be corralled in area in which there is a dive hole. These penguins are studied by way of an underwater chamber and by a SCUBA team. All of this can be and is documented on videotape.
The major goals of this project are as follows: 1. To understand the physiology and behavioral mechanisms that regulates (controls) the diving ability of these emperors, the largest of all penguins. 2. To understand how the physiological limits of these birds might effect the natural diving behavior and the ecology of this parcticular species. 3. To use the natural adaptations that these birds have for deep diving to study the way that tissues and organs in these birds respond to low oxygen tolerances.
I knew nothing about how well these tuxedoed torpedoes dove so I asked Gregg for some information. He told me that the emperor penguin normally dives for food for a period of time ranging from 2 to 10 minutes at depths between 50 and 500 meters. That is somewhere between 155' and almost 1600 feet deep. That is really impressive when you realize that the pressure on you, or the emperor penguins, doubles about every 30 feet that you go deeper. That means at 1600 feet the pressure should be about 700 PSI that is a lot of pressure when you consider at sea level normal air pressure is about 14.7 PSI. Gregg said that the longest dive he knew of was a dive that lasted 22 minutes, but he stressed this was not necessarily the deepest dive.
These amazing bird provide information for modeling the physiology and diving behavior of other diving birds and mammals. The research centered on the penguin's thermalregulation (how they control heat loss and how it effects their metabolism); under water behavior and the regulation of the amount of myoglobin in the blood. (Myoglobin is a molecule whose function it is to carry oxygen. It is similar to hemoglobin, the red pigment found in your blood.)
One of the major concerns will be how the penguin's decreased body temperature can extend the duration of aerobic metabolism during diving. It is a well know fact that Van T'Hoff's law, which states for every 10oC change in temperature an organism's metabolism changes by a factor of 2 or 3 times holds for cold blooded critter, I assume it works for warm blooded critter too.
The method of studying diving behavior was to strap a camera to the penguin and watch them as they dove. The camera allowed the researchers to see what the penguin eats, how fast it "flies' through the water and to somehow monitor the internal and muscle temperatures of the various birds. I honestly did not understand this aspect.
The study of the myglobin concentration centered around the very high concentration of this molecule that is found in emperor penguins especially in chick embryos where the concentration of this molecule goes through the roof as the emperor chicks develop. The major point of interest here being the transcriptional control of the gene that controls the production of myoglobin. I hope to get a trip to the penguin ranch, but, time does not seem on my side.
I thanked Gregg a thousand times and reminded him that even if he needed someone to clean up after the penguins I would be the first in line to volunteer. I would just love to get to the penguin ranch.
I went over to Gallager's and there met a fellow TEA, Sharon Harris, who had basically the same idea I did; to have a hamburger. When we walked into Gallagher's we found ourselves about 20th in line to get this obviously much sort after foodstuff. The food was great and Sharon and I shared war stories. We talked about the fact that the NSF science head at McMurdo Station Scott Borg has asked Barb and I to attend a reception on Monday night, unfortunately we will be in the field, so Barb and I both suggested Sharon as a good replacement for us. She was nervous, but I'm sure she'll get the TEA message out.
I left Gallagher's about 2100 hours and returned to my dorm to type. It is now 2230 and time to go to bed.
Penguin Pete the Polar Man
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