The MIMMP has a long history of conducting research in the sub-Antarctic and Antarctic ecosystems; one of our flagship projects, the demographic study of Marion Island’s southern elephant seal population, is now continuing into its 35th consecutive year. But we are always interested in collaborating with other research teams. For example, Marion Island sealers were represented on all seven of the seal and seabird research expeditions undertaken by the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) at Bouvetøya between 1996/97 and 2017/18. We have less experience of working in the Arctic, but it is within the context of our Bouvetøya collaboration that Chris Oosthuizen (current Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme postdoctoral researcher) recently found himself in the Svalbard Archipelago.
Svalbard is a large archipelago located in the Arctic Ocean north of continental Norway. At 78°N, Longyearbyen on the island Spitsbergen is the northernmost year-round settlement on Earth and only 1300 km from the North Pole. Chris was invited to participate in the Svalbard expedition by Dr Andrew Lowther of the Norwegian Polar Institute, with whom he has worked on Bouvetøya for two summer seasons. Dr Lowther is leading a project investigating the impacts of drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) on marine mammals in terms of disturbance and the use of drones as alternate research platforms. This project aims to provide best practise guidelines regarding the appropriate use of drones around wildlife by developing flight profile standards that are 1) capable of delivering scientific goals and 2) create insignificant levels of disturbance when used in both scientific and a recreational setting. For the work conducted during May and June, the team camped near a harbour seal colony on Midtøya, a small island adjacent to Prins Karls Forland. This is the only harbour seal colony in Svalbard and the northernmost one in the world.