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1872 Stieler Map of Antarctica South Pole

Spellbound by the continent’s beauty and complexity, researcher Ari Friedlaender ’96 is unabashed: “I’ve grown less objective” by em ily m c c onv i lle Antarctica, says Ari Friedlaender ’96, is a “unique wilderness.” The southernmost continent is cold, silent, and inhospitable, yet beautiful. Summer daylight and winter dark last six months each. Life, from whales and penguins on the coasts to microbes living in ice-covered lakes, persists in the harshest conditions on the planet. “Being in that environment and feeling the cold, you feel absolutely minuscule and unimportant,” Friedlaender says. “It’s also such a vibrant place and such an amazing natural wilderness that you can’t help but be overcome by it.” For the scientists who study the continent’s fossils, rocks, glaciers, and wildlife, the continent provides countless opportunities to understand how the Earth works, past and present. And, as the climate warms, sea levels rise, and ecosystems change before researchers’ eyes, a sense of obligation to the public goes hand in hand with the science. Friedlaender, an associate researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, first traveled to Antarctica two decades ago, as part of an expedition with the Australian Antarctic Division. At the time, the study of Antarctic marine mammals essentially amounted to counting them. The otherworldliness of the southernmost continent — the cold, the blue-tinted ice, the seals and penguins unfamiliar with and unafraid of people — captivated him. But despite the emotions the continent evoked, Friedlaender tried to maintain a sense of objectivity when it came to his research.

“Throughout my education, I was actively learning how to be a scientist and to think critically,” says Friedlaender, who majored in biology and minored in anthropology at Bates. “But I always had in my soul that you need to be a responsible citizen of the planet, especially at Bates, where I was learning critically about environmentalism and conservation as its own discipline.” Today, Friedlaender is a leading authority on baleen whales in Antarctica. He tags and tracks them, giving researchers a much better picture of where the whales go, what they eat, and how their populations change. Supported by the National Science Foundation and the International Whaling Commission, his work, particularly video from cameras attached to whales’ backs, has garnered widespread attention, including features in The New York Times, a viral video published by the World Wildlife Fund, and prominent placement in the National Geographic documentary series Continent 7: Antarctica. In recent years, his focus has shifted from humpback to minke whales, a little-known and elusive species that lives amidst sea ice, where it hunts krill. Through tagging — done by approaching whales on an inflatable boat and using a long pole to suction-cup a camera to their skin — Friedlaender has learned that they are highly social, and that they can feed on krill very quickly. “We went from knowing nothing about the animals to knowing a lot of very personal things about how individuals behaved,” he says.

As a drone flies overhead, Ari Friedlaender and fellow researchers, joined by a National Geographic film crew, track a humpback whale off the Antarctic Peninsula. Using a harpoon, they’ll attach a small GPS sensor to the mammal to track its location. The drone helps to accurately measure its length and girth. Fall 2018

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Profile for Bates College

Bates Magazine, Fall 2018  

The issue's cover story looks at Bates alumni and their cool Antarctic doings. The photo, by Billy Collins ’14, shows an equipment operator...

Bates Magazine, Fall 2018  

The issue's cover story looks at Bates alumni and their cool Antarctic doings. The photo, by Billy Collins ’14, shows an equipment operator...