Antarctic Expedition

April 11, 2017

BUFFALO, NY – Four Canisius students experienced the trip of a lifetime when they journeyed to Antarctica and the surrounding islands from December 27 – January 18. Led by Michael Noonan, PhD, professor of animal behavior, ecology and conservation (ABEC), the students traveled under the auspices of the Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation (CAC) Program.  The following students took the excursion:

  • Anna Kidder ’18, a junior ABEC and French dual major
  • Allison Maynard ’17, a senior ABEC and digital media arts dual major
  • Jacquelyn Sagasta ’17, a senior ABEC and environmental science dual major
  • Emma Weisenfluh ’17, a senior ABEC major

While there, the group completed filming for the CAC’s upcoming documentary “A World in Blue and White” which focuses on the flow of water across the planet and the central role that water plays in every ecosystem. The students also had the unique learning opportunity to get up close with the species native to the islands. They observed southern fur seals, humpback whales, king penguins, elephant seals, gentoo penguins, rock hopper penguins, weddell seals and 64 other species of birds and mammals, including the black-browed albatross.  View photos from the trip here.

Noonan says what his students experienced was priceless and far and beyond what he could teach them in the classroom.

“The students saw ecological variables play out first-hand right in front of them,” says Noonan. “They saw tidal pools where krill hatch, and they saw a behemoth whale consume krill out in the open sea.  They got to witness snowfall leading to the formation of new glaciers, and they also saw one-hundred thousand year-old ice come to the surface on old glaciers.”

Emma Weinsenfluh ’17 describes the encounters as life-changing.

“It is getting out into the field that gives me a true appreciation of nature,” she says. “Nothing can rival the awe of watching an iceberg roll in front of you, then picking up chunks of ice from it that are thousands of years old.”

The group even had the chance to camp outside on Antarctic Island for one night.

“Each day’s lesson would unfold according to what wildlife we would encounter,” adds Noonan, who incorporated a one-credit intensive course into the trip. “There was a constant flow of learning opportunities, both formal and informal.

On South Georgia Island, for example, there was a colony of more than 10,000 king penguins, he adds.

“While I made sure to keep five meters away from them to abide by the law, many curious penguins approached us!” says Jacquelyn Sagasta ’17. “I got nibbled by a king penguin and chased by a fur seal. These were honestly some of the most magical moments of my life.”

The largest program of its kind in the U.S., The Canisius ABEC Program educates students about the science of animal behavior as well as the ethical and moral considerations involved in these fields. The major offers broad training in the nature of animals, their behavior ecology, and mankind’s relationship to them. It is designed for students who wish to engage in a rigorous course on the behavioral biology of animals, and one in which they critically examine issues pertaining to animal welfare and wildlife conservation. A central theme underlying this program is the use of scientific knowledge about animal behavior for the benefit of animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Find out more about the ABEC Program here

The Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation (CAC) works to educate and inspire pro-conservation efforts in the next generation. The CAC takes a select number of college students to distant locations, such as Tanzania, East Africa; Southeast Asia, Argentina and Costa Rica to study wildlife and conservation issues, first-hand.  Upon their return, students produce pro-conservation, educational resources such as DVDs and webpages about the ecosystems they studied, which they present at nearby zoological institutions, and in the classrooms of local middle and high school students.   In this way, the CAC has already reached three million community members at schools, animal parks, and through online content. Find out more about CAC here.

Canisius is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation and the premier private university in Western New York.