Following is a post by Weddell seal population project Lead Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Jay Rotella, Department of Ecology, Montana State University, on plans for the upcoming Weddell seal pupping season:
During the 2016 field season, we will continue the long-term population study of Weddell seals in Erebus Bay that was initiated in 1968 and has been conducted annually through 2015.
The view from the Air Force C-17 transport plane of the awesome Antarctic landscape.
The work we are doing in this 5th year of our current 5-year grant from the National Science Foundation is focused on evaluating a variety of hypotheses about (1) individual variation in survival and reproductive rates and the role of such variation to the population’s dynamics and evolutionary ecology and (2) the population’s status, long-term dynamics, and stability and how it relates to environmental conditions.
Team member and M.S. graduate student, Kaitlin Macdonald, arriving in Antarctica for her third research season.
We are investigating a variety of sources of individual variation in key characteristics including body mass, maternal investment in pups, pup birth dates, and pup swimming behavior. Since 2004, annual population sizes and pup-production levels have ranged from record lows (in 2004, only 169 pups were produced, which is 38% of the long-term average) to the highest level recorded since 1967 (in 2015, 658 pups were produced, which is 149% of the long-term average).
Pup production has been consistently high from 2010 to present. Currently the ice extends further north than it has in recent years. In 2016, we will again conduct a series of population surveys to identify both pup production and overall population levels. Those data will be used to help us assess how population-level features are linked to annual variation in diverse environmental features in the region.
Terrill Paterson, (Ph.D. student), Jamie Brusa, (Ph.D. student), Laura McDuffie, and Kaitlin Macdonald, (M.S. student), enjoying a hot beverage in the McMurdo galley after their flight from New Zealand arrived in Antarctica.
During 2016, we look forward to continuing to produce a series of outreach products as part of our Informal Science Education efforts that we conduct through our partnership with video and multimedia specialist Mary Lynn Price.
The project will also continue to train the next generation of scientists. This year our crew will have 2 Ph.D. (Jamie Brusa and J. Terrill Paterson) and 1 M.S. student (Kaitlin Macdonald) and 3 recently graduated students.
Jamie Brusa & Terrill Paterson discussing project logistics while waiting for their flight from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo, Antarctica. This is Jamie’s first season on the project and Terrill’s fourth.
We will continue to collaborate with other seal researchers who study other aspects of the seals such as physiology, navigation, and movements. Finally, we will maintain the long-term database of information on the Erebus Bay Weddell seal population and share information on the 23,460 Weddell seals tagged since 1968 with other scientists.