Weddell seal population study lead scientist Dr. Jay Rotella reports from the ice: "Our 2016 field season continues to go very well. The last few pups of the 2016 season were born about 10 days ago, and we have now tagged all pups born in the study area.
Mom and pup lounge on the sea ice at the Hutton Cliffs Weddell seal pupping colony, the largest of the pupping colonies in the Erebus Bay Weddell seal population study area. The mom is SPENO 9926 with her 16th pup lounging on the sea ice at Hutton Cliffs. This seal mom is 25 years old, and is the daughter of the oldest Weddell mom having had the most pups over her lifetime ever documented in the nearly 50 year study of the Erebus Bay Weddell seals.
"The number of pups this year is slightly above the long-term average over the past several decades. Our research team has now completed 5 of 7 population surveys and has only 1 week of field work left. Although pup numbers are slightly above average, the numbers of (1) females without pups and (2) males appear to be lower than what has been observed since the iceberg years of 2002-2006.
The Weddell seal pupping colony at Big Razorback Island, with Little Razorback Island in the background on the left and Mt. Erebus rising above all in the center. Iconic Mt. Erebus is the southernmost active volcano on Earth.
"The fact that pup production remains above average while the overall population appears to be lower than typical in a year when the ice edge is farther north provides an interesting data point on factors hypothesized to be related to the population’s dynamics in the multi-decadal time series for the Erebus Bay population."
A very skinny Weddell mom with her now hefty pup. Weddell moms can lose roughly half their body weight during the pup nursing period, transfering all that energy to their ever-growing pups in the form of thick, rich milk.
- Jay Rotella