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30 April, 2000

Herbarium Samples and Dr. Katrin Iken Question 71: How does whale anatomy help to make up for the fact that whales do not chew their food? (At most, toothed whales use teeth only to tear large prey.) It is a gorgeous day! Sunny and clear, but cold and windy too; temperature -6 C. Sunday mornings are our only unscheduled time but I had an amphipod assay to complete this morning, so I stayed in the lab as the station emptied with the staff piling into boats to go sightseeing. My free time was put off until afternoon when I took a quick boating trip around the islands with Heidi, a General Assistant (GA) on the station, who wanted to log some extra time operating a Zodiac . GAs help wherever extra hands are needed on a temporary basis. Their jobs could include anything from helping the chef prepare food to hauling construction materials to assisting in the carpentry shop. Any beach areas we saw were covered with rounded chunks of ice, a result of the recent windy weather. The reflection off water, snow and ice was blinding. Later I went out again to tend for a dive in Arthur Harbor; and after the dive, I had enough time and daylight for a walk in the backyard. I found and followed a lone penguin track that went all the way across our little peninsula behind the station; it was obviously waddling upright in one place, sliding downhill on its belly in another, but most often pushing with feet and wings while lying down. In the lab, in addition to other things, Dr. Katrin Iken has been working hard on finishing the team's herbarium sheets--pressed and dried samples of macroalgae on paper. Including each species of macroalgae that we collect and work with, the completed sheets will make a reference guide for this area's marine plants. Katrin takes a typical example of a macroalga species (one that shows the unique characteristics of the species clearly and is in good shape), rinses it in fresh water and spreads it out on a large sheet of non-acidic paper using forceps to position the moist, clingy tissues. Then the species name, collection location, collection date and collector's name is written in pencil on the corner of the paper and a sheet of wax paper placed on top. Next comes a rectangle of stiff cardboard to provide structure and a flat surface for each sample. Finally, and before the next sample, a thick layer of paper towels or blotting paper is added to absorb the water from the samples. Many of these sandwiches are stacked together. When the loose stack is about 20 cm high, it is placed between the two wooden lattices of the plant press, which are strapped tightly together just like pressing botanical samples of land plants. It takes several days for these samples to dry completely, but once dry they make up a record that will last for many years. Katrin has been speeding up the drying process by hanging the press near the outlet of the heating system. Like most of the rest of my team members, Katrin Iken has a long history with the Antarctic. Science in general has interested her since childhood, with nature and especially animals taking the lead early on. She began to focus on ecology in college, getting into chemical ecology with insects during her masters degree, then switching into marine chemical ecology while working towards her Ph.D. at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. Katrin was fascinated by the idea of working in the polar environment. She has since made three research trips to the Arctic and four to Antarctica. In 1993 she got her scientific diving certification and did her first Antarctic dives at the Argentinean base Jubany on King George Island. In addition to diving, she has used remote techniques to sample deep sea polar areas on several cruises. Back in Birmingham, Katrin will continue with the chemical analysis of the brown macroalgae, including work with polyphenols and size fractionations, to find chemical patterns in different parts of the plant. Answer 70: By working as a group. In the April/May 2000 issue of National Wildlife magazine there is an arcticle describing how a group of about 15 orcas killed a 20' long gray whale calf off Monterey, California. The pod of orcas worked together to tire the gray whale, ramming into its side forcefully again and again, probably injuring it internally. The killer whales also used their teeth to hold the young whale under water to drown it. In the Antarctic, killer whales usually attack Minke whales.


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