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Leopard Seal
Photo Credit: Lisa Trotter
A leopard seal picture by Lisa Trotter, the new Palmer Station winter site manager. Trotter has worked for the last decade in Antarctic tourism. Her love of the Antarctic has led to a project to help educate the public about leopard seals, a sometimes maligned predator.

Diving in

Polar veteran Trotter heads Palmer Station for winter season

With 10 years of experience working on cruise ships in Antarctica, Palmer Station External U.S. government site winter-site manager Lisa Trotter is no stranger to the Ice, even if it is her first time working for the U. S. Antarctic Program External U.S. government site.

In November 2000, Trotter landed her first Antarctic job as a gift shop manager aboard the Caledonian Star. It was while working retail that she started her training as a diver, with her first dive in the waters off Punta Arenas, Chile, at the tip of South America.

Woman changes oil on vehicle.
Photo Credit: Sean Bonnette
Palmer Station winter site manager Lisa Trotter helps change the oil on a vehicle.
Weddell seal
Photo Credit: Lisa Trotter
Weddell seal

Aside from a few dives taken off of Cape Horn, Trotter completed her diver certification in Antarctica — where the water temperature can be as low as 28 degrees Fahrenheit — possibly making her the first person to become scuba-certified in the Southern Ocean.

Trotter turned her gift shop gig into a polar adventure career that rivals such modern explorers like Jon Bowermaster External Non-U.S. government site. She has worked as a naturalist, undersea specialist, dive master, assistant expedition leader and expedition leader aboard the ships in the Lindblad Expeditions External Non-U.S. government site fleet, mostly with the National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Endeavour. From Svalbard in northern Norway to the Ross Sea aboard a Russian icebreaker, Trotter has spent a vast amount of time in the polar regions.

Why the fascination with the Ice? “The unknown,” she says. “On any given day being able to see something I’ve never seen before.”  

Trotter has continued to dive in Antarctica, logging more than 900 hours exploring the waters using both scuba gear and a remotely operated vehicle. She has had the opportunity to photograph, video, and interact with wildlife such as sea cucumbers, sea spiders, fur seals, leopard seals and humpback whales.

Trotter’s love for Antarctic diving led to her authoring a book on the sport. What started out as a benthic guide to the critters that live on the seafloor turned into a full-on dive guide to the Antarctic Peninsula.

The book, “Below Freezing: The Antarctic Dive Guide,” is in its second edition and includes information about 27 dive sites around the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia Island. Besides full-color photos of the marine life living in the frigid waters, the book also include sections on underwater photography and the history of Antarctic diving.

Dragonfish
Photo Credit: Lisa Trotter
Dragonfish

One of her personal favorite dive sites is located at Cape Wellmet on Vega Island. “Below the surface of the water is a large 400-foot wall with great clarity and a current that just guides you along past lots of sea sponges and anemones,” she says.

Her newest project is a cooperative effort to learn more about behavior, ecology and population dynamics of leopard seals, one of the top predators in Antarctica whose prey includes penguins.

The Sea Leopard Project External Non-U.S. government site hopes to increase the existing database on the leopard seal and dispel the myths surrounding the little-understood predator. To do so, the team is building a database of individual seals, collecting information about their eating habits, such as do certain individuals prefer one food source over another, like fish versus penguins. The project members are also interested in leopard seal migration, based on the range that individuals have been spotted in different locations around the peninsula.

“So little is known about one of the most prolific mammals in Antarctica,” Trotter notes.

Of the positions Trotter has held on the tour ships, expedition leader is the one she says has prepared her the most for her job as the Palmer winter-site manager. In addition to her duties managing the station, Trotter is quick to lend a hand, whether it’s to help perform preventive maintenance on station equipment, such as the SkyTrak Telehandlers used by logistics to move cargo, or to lead the charge in helping everyone to learn Spanish.

The job came with its early season challenges, including generator problems at the power plant and temporary damage to the pier that prevented the research vessel Laurence M. Gould External U.S. government site from docking at the station. Trotter has been able to keep a cool head and kept the station moving forward — skills she gained from a decade-worth of experience aboard the cruise ships.

“Like Palmer, the cruise ship is a small community, and everyone has to work together to be able to get their jobs done,” she says.

Wherever the future takes Trotter, it is clear she will still be very involved in Antarctica, both with tourism and educating herself and others about the underwater life that is abundant beneath its cold waters.

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Curator: Peter Rejcek, Antarctic Support Contract | NSF Official: Winifred Reuning, Division of Polar Programs