The end of the 2011 Antarctica field season for the Weddell seal population study has come upon us, and as always, all too suddenly. The number of new pups being born on the ice slowed then diminished to none.
The air temperature, well below zero in the early season, stabilized right around 20° F, nearly t-shirt and shorts weather for us. (And indeed we could often be seen down to our base layers and still sweating while tagging seals!)
The pure white snow petrels with beady black eyes and black bills arrived, to my personal great joy, though heralding a dreaded moment for us: the pulling of the field camp. Because of its location on the sea ice, the heavy equipment operators understandably want to pull the camp before the ice conditions become too unreliable. A few days ago this was done, our huts now sitting safely on rock at McMurdo Station. We completed our field work concurrently, and shifted our attention to the reorganizing, packing, and returning of camp and field gear, all of which is mostly completed as of now.
So, after all the effort of the season, what did we accomplish? Most significantly, in continuation of the 40+ years of data collection without missing a SINGLE YEAR, we have tagged another MASSIVE number of pups (similar to last year's all-time record): 617. That's over 100 pups per crew member. We were also able to obtain the three desired weights (these being at birth, mid-lactation, and weaning) of 128 pups. We successfully deployed temperature tags on 50 of those pups, obtaining some great insight on the behavior of pups learning the ins and outs of swimming in Antarctic waters!
It has been a great season for the crew, which put in some incredibly long days (eating dinner at midnight!) and endured with great enthusiasm the mentally and physically challenging extreme environment of Antarctica. And we even continue to hang out together in McMurdo!
Our biggest thanks goes out to the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Antarctic Program, and the support we receive at McMurdo from Raytheon Polar Services and various other contractors--there is no chance of our work being accomplished without this support. And thank you, kind reader, for keeping a keen attention to Weddell seal science and desiring to learn more about these unique creatures of the ice and sea.