"The study of Weddell seals in Erebus Bay, the southern-most population of mammal on Earth, is one of the longest-running mammal studies in the world and provides many insights into the lives of wild animals, the challenges they face, and strategies for conserving wildlife.
If we have to forgo collecting data this year, we will lose a chance to find out if the population continues to perform at the record levels seen in recent years or changes from long-term benchmark levels. We would also break the 31-year string of knowing every pup that is born in the population and of recording complete reproductive histories for thousands of mothers. Such information is key to our ability to learn whether some individuals are better than others, our investigations of why and how such differences arise, and to our studies of how important such differences might be to the long-term status of the population. Given how unique the study is, it is hard to over-emphasize how unfortunate this would be.
As luck would have it, this is the year when the current crew leader/Ph.D. student is scheduled to train his successor; for a multi-decade study such as this, these hand-offs are crucial for maintaining integrity and continuity.
We sincerely hope that we are given the opportunity to continue our work and that another group of students has the privilege of working with this amazing animal in this spectacular place in the proud tradition of the U.S. Antarctic Program."
The U.S. government shutdown has forced the National Science Foundation to cancel the current U.S. Antarctica research field season and evacuate researchers and support personnel from the three U.S. Antarctic Science Bases. This development will have a deleterious effect on numerous crucial science projects, and a devastating effect on many of the support personnel who are being sent off-continent to uncertain futures.
We will continue to update readers on the status of the Weddell seal population study project as the situation develops. Learn more about the Weddell seal population study and its long history at WeddellSealScience.com.