These past weeks have been extremely busy for the Weddell Seal Population Study field team as the pupping season moves into higher gear. The field team is responsible for overseeing the placement of the remote sea ice camp at Big Razorback Island, and setting up the camp for the busy days ahead. These great 2015 team photos were sent from the ice for this blog post.
The working and sleeping huts are set in place at Big Razorback Island, one of the Dellbridge Islands off the coast of Ross Island.
The Dellbridge Islands are parts of an old submerged volcano caldera, and are sites of Weddell seal pupping colonies.
The field team also has the responsibility of determining placement of and flagging safe routes over the sea ice that they will use to get to the many different Weddell seal pupping colonies in the Erebus Bay study area. They look for snowmobile routes that have no open or hidden cracks in the sea ice by probing the ice in questionable areas, and then drilling the ice to place flags that will mark the location of those roads they've determined to be safe for future travel.
Here's a project video from a past season showing the process of flagging safe routes in cold weather:
One of the field team's crucial tasks is testing the ice for thickness and cracks, then flagging new "roads" to the different Weddell pupping colonies every season. The sea ice in most of the Erebus Bay study area melts during most Austral summers, so new roads need to be created every Spring season. This is a vital role of B-009, our Weddell population study science group number.
A Weddell seal checks out the photographer in this beautiful portrait shot, above. Weddell seals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and all Weddell seal imaging must be done under NMFS Permit. Our NMFS Permit Number for this season is 17236.
The field team will also spend a good deal of time back at the Crary Science Building loading dock and work area preparing the small numbered tags that will be used to tag the seals this season.
The team gathers in the Crary Science Building loading dock work area to sort and drill small livestock tags used for tagging Weddell seals. Each tag set has two tags, one for the top of the flipper and one that shows on the bottom of the flipper. The tags are individually numbered with a unique identification number. Once the tag is in place, that seal becomes part of the extensive database.
We'll have much more on the Weddell seals themselves, and more on the work of the field team in future posts.