A video compilation of Weddell seal adults and pup vocalizing on top of the ice.
Special from Antarctica Field Team Leader and MSU PhD Student, Terrill Paterson:
Hello from the ice as our 2014 season begins to wind to a close! To date we have:
1) Tagged 603 new pups,
2) Seen 928 different Weddell females, 567 are moms, 42 of which we weighed shortly after they gave birth, and for several dozen we have photogrammetric mass assessments shortly after birth, 20 days after birth, and 35 days after birth,
3) Completed 5 surveys of all the Weddell seals in the study area, with 2 more surveys to go, with a maximum of 1,468 seals seen during survey 5,
4) Put out 147 small temperature tags on pups, 116 of which we have collected and are waiting to analyze,
5) Retagged or simply tagged 217 adult Weddell seal adults (with more to go at Tent Island), and
7) Tagged and surveyed the small Weddell seal population at White Island.
Flight to the White Island trapped colony of Weddell Seals from a previous season.
[For more information on the small trapped population of Weddell seals at White Island, please see our post on the White Island Colony of Weddell Seals from last season.]
As always, the season has flown by and I struggle to believe how it could already be 1 December. We are currently scheduled for our redeployment flight on 10 December, meaning that in the next week or so we need to do 2 more surveys, finish weighing our pups, finish collecting our temperature tags, take down our beautiful (and incredibly straight) flagged routes, pack up our gear to overwinter here in McMurdo and get ready to come home!
The crew has done a marvelous job this season under some pretty interesting weather conditions. Everyone in town seems to agree that it is colder, stormier and snowier this season than it has been for quite some time. Our crew has done an excellent job meeting my goals whilst slogging through knee-high snow at North Base and Big Razorback, brutal winds at Hutton and wet, sloppy cracks at Turks Head.
It is sad to see the season wind down, but it has been an excellent few months!
Here are some thoughts and impressions of the 2014 Antarctica Field Research Team about the earlier November season:
One of my favorite moments from November was the last time I went into South Base (near the base of the Erebus Glacier Tongue). I was surrounded by pillars of glacial ice, flooded slush pools and three young pups that we had yet to tag. It was quite an adventure finding a route through the icefall and ice jumble; once we found a safe route through we had to work very efficiently and quickly as the pups were near cracks and we did not want to lose anyone to the water. I had two of my new crew members take over and I got to watch as they did their jobs fast, efficiently and safely. I was a proud crew leader that day!
The change in weather has been dramatic since October. The sun has decided to hang out almost constantly and temperatures have been warm for Antarctica. I have been wearing less clothes as a result. An amazing place I was able to go into was South Base where the EGT [Erebus Glacier Tongue] meets Ross Island. The structures in there look like an earthquake stormed through the area.
It has been quite interesting to see how our study area has changed over the past month. The pups have grown quite a bit some are fully molted and nearly as large as their mothers. Others look quite patchy and are just learning to swim taking tentative dives in the water. The other large change is the ice. It is hard to notice at first because you see the same areas everyday then one day you look up and there are ridges that have grown enormously, cracks have widened, cornices have broken and it looks completely different. It is especially fun to go into north and south base, because we don’t get in there that often the changes seem that much greater.
As the cracks continue to open and allow more light to penetrate the dark beneath our feet, the shapes and forms and now beautiful colors of the seals are becoming more easily seen. I love staring into the holes and watching the seals swim. Their ease and grace and serenity in the water is something I envy, especially when 30+ mph wind gusts tear at my jacket and cold creeps into my hands and feet as I’m kneeling over the hole looking through this window to another world.
My two favorite recent memories are: my survey team surveying 517 animals in 5.5 hours last survey and our recent trip to White Island, where we tagged 6 pups; more than I have ever seen on a previous White Island trip.
A few days ago, we took a helicopter flight out to White Island where a population of seals that became isolated, it is believed, about 60 years ago still exists. The White Island population is the most southern group of seals that we study. Only a few animals started the population and it is still very small. Usually, only two or three pups are born there each year. But this year, we had six! It’s a good year at White Island! We will go one more time this season to survey all of the seals that we see. Maybe we’ll find another pup or an adult that we haven’t seen in a long time. We’ll see…..
-Special from Terrill Paterson