Spring has come to Antarctica. And with the return of the sun to this icy continent at the bottom of the world, return Weddell seals by the hundreds to a small embayment called Erebus Bay in McMurdo Sound of Antarctica's Ross Sea.
Many of the seals are rotund with unborn pups, and are headed underwater far under the frozen sea ice to search out cracks through which they can access the frozen surface. There, in several Weddell seal colonies scattered throughout Erebus Bay, pregnant female seals will give birth on top of the sea ice where no other natural predators can reach their vulnerable new pups. This makes Weddell seals the southernmost breeding mammal population on Earth.
For the next two months the seals will continue to arrive, returning to the area of their own births, to nurse and nurture their new pups, and teach them how to swim, before leaving them on their own to fend for themselves as the summer ice breaks up.
At the same time that the seals are gathering in the pupping colonies of Erebus Bay, a team of researchers based at Montana State University returns to Antarctica to study this population of Weddell seals, as researchers on this project have done for some four and a half decades.
This is one of the longest running population studies ever of a long-lived mammal, a longterm study that has produced a dataset unique in the field of population ecology. The researchers will seek out every new pup born in the Erebus Bay study area, and gather valuable information about these iconic marine mammals.
Both the seals and the researchers will face many challenges over the pupping season--harsh Antarctic weather, unpredictable sea ice conditions, and many physical hardships.
Through this seasonal blog I will try to bring you some of the stories, images, and video of the seals, the science, and the researchers to give you a glimpse of this annual Antarctic phenomenon--the Season of the Seal.
Learn more at WeddellSealScience.com!