Arthur Borror, one of the top 10 animal sound recordists in the Borror lab, embarked on a trip to the far south end of our planet in early February 1999.
He brought with him a cassette recorder and microphone to capture some of the unique sounds made by animals in the Antarctic region. Listen for yourself to the following sounds that he brought back – and note how little man-made background noise there is, just waves and wind.
He started his trip far south on the Palmer Archipelago, a group of islands off the northwestern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here thousands of Gentoo Penguins crowd icebound shores under dramatic cliffs.
Listen to a colony of Gentoo Penguins calling on a rocky point. The loud trumpeting heard in the recording is emitted while the bird throws its head back, just like the bird in the photo above.
There Arthur also encountered one of the endemic and rather peculiar birds of the region – the Snowy Sheathbill. It somewhat looks like a cross between a pigeon and a domestic hen. Hear a Snowy Sheathbill calling on the rocky island.
The next stop was near South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, a remote and inhospitable collection of islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean. These islands are designated Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas due to the number of seabirds breeding along the coast.
Listen to King penguins calling on the beach. This is one of the largest species of penguins, up to 3 feet tall, second only to the Emperor Penguin. King penguins can live in colonies of up to hundreds of thousands of birds. Imagine the cacophony of sounds one will hear from such aggregations.
Among the penguins on the beach one can find another charismatic animal, the Antarctic fur seal. Listen to the grunts of an Antarctic fur seal. These vocalizations are used during the breeding season to communicate with females.
A much larger member of the fur seal family may also be found on the Antarctic beaches, for its elephant trunk-like nose aptly named the elephant fur seal. Hear the much more impressive grunts of the colossal elephant seal.
Another quick stop at the South Orkney Islands, a group of rather barren islands in the Southern Ocean, about 604 kilometers north-east of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Snow falls about 280 days each year, still the bird life of the South Orkneys is plentiful.
There Arthur recorded a Great Skua‘s harsh “hah-hah-hah-hah” call. These birds are aggressive pirates of the seas, deliberately harassing other, even larger birds to steal a free meal.
He made a final stop on the sparsely-populated Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory off the south-eastern coast of Argentina. These 778 islands and islets are known for their rugged terrain and cliff-lined coasts but also for their wildlife and nature.
Hear a Magellanic Oystercatcher alarm calling. This species is related to the American Oystercatcher that can be seen along the coast of the eastern and southern U.S.A. Due to its extreme southern distribution it is one of the least studied species in the oystercatcher family. If nothing else, this would be one reason to return to the far south.
All photos from Wikipedia, CC BY-NC 3.0 US.
About the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics; her research interests are in acoustic behavior and female choice in songbirds; she teaches a course on Ohio Birds at OSU each spring.