Kerguelen saga: part deux — Sailing into the unknown (episode 1)

Since 2016, the Ocean Tracking Network and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) have been collaborating on a study to understand of the successful colonization of brown trout introduced to the Kerguelen Islands (southern Indian Ocean) in the 1960s. The project presents a unique opportunity to study large-scale colonization by a non-native species in the context of climate change and glacial retreat. The first OTN-supported Kerguelen trip in 2016 sent former OTN masters student, Colin Buhariwalla, to the remote Kerguelen Islands to conduct preliminary tests and establish tracking arrays. Over the next three months, OTN PhD student, Xavier Bordeleau, will be conducting brown trout tracking studies in partnership with the French Polar Institute (IPEV), and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). He documents his research and the rhythm of life on the remote Kerguelen Islands through photographs and journal updates.

My name is Xavier Bordeleau.

Originally from Quebec, I’m a PhD student at Dalhousie University working on the marine migratory behaviour of Atlantic salmon and anadromous brown trout (commonly known as sea trout in Europe). Over the past three years, thanks to my very supportive supervisor, Dr. Glenn Crossin, and the amazing collaborative opportunities resulting from the Ocean Tracking Network, I’ve been fortunate enough to conduct research on endangered Atlantic salmon populations of the Bras d’Or Lakes watershed in Cape Breton.

Xavier tagging Atlantic salmon in Cape Breton, N.S.

Old friends, new discoveries 

I’m now embarking on a new journey with my fellow colleagues and friends, Norwegian researchers Dr. Jan Davidsen and Sindre Eldøy (NTNU, Norway). This collaboration aims to better understanding sea trout habitat use in the marine environment (more specifically on the drivers of different migratory strategies) and has further expanded into a France-Norway-Canada partnership studying sea trout in a very remote part of their global distribution — the Kerguelen Islands. Through Dr. Philippe Gaudin (INRA), IPEV and TAAF, we are set to embark on a scientific expedition to the Kerguelen Archipelago to study the marine migrations and exploration behaviour of introduced sea trout. The species was first introduced there in the 1950s, and rapidly colonized different freshwater systems through their movement in the coastal marine environment. But many questions remain on the mechanisms of such an invasion, which also have potential application to new suitable habitats created in the Arctic via melting glaciers.

Xavier’s route from Canada to the Kerguelen Islands

To address some of these knowledge gaps, we’ll be tagging sea trout and will track their movement along the coast, as well as their potential exploration of new freshwater systems. Throughout the next few months, I’ll be posting updates about the progression of our telemetry project.from the deployment of acoustic receivers, to sea trout tagging, as well as how is life on the rugged Southern Seas and on the Desolation (Kerguelen) Islands.

We are not alone

Although the rugged Kerguelen Archipelago appears desolate from a human perspective, it’s far from being the case for wildlife. Located at the Antarctic convergence zone, where the warm waters of the Indian Ocean meet the cold waters of the Southern Ocean, the Kerguelen Islands are an important breeding ground that supports some of Antarctica’s most iconic fauna including elephant and leopard seals, king and macaroni penguins, as well as wandering and black-browed albatrosses, giant petrel, and great skua. This productive environment also attracts Commerson’s dolphin, orcas and sperm whales. As a passionate naturalist, the thought of living amongst those magnificent creatures in their natural environment brings immense joy and is something I never expected to experience in my life. Studying salmonids among penguins is quite uncommon to say the least! I will do my very best to share that excitement through these communications, and I hope that readers will be transported to this remote place as they follow along with my updates.

The bare necessities for anyone planning a trip to the windy and remote Kerguelen Islands

But first, I need to get to Reunion Island where we will embark on the Marion Dufresne (a ~120 m research vessel) for a ~10 days, ~4,300 km journey through the Southern Seas to reach Kerguelen Archipelago where we’ll be stationed until mid-February.

À plus,