With the pace of seal pup births increasing, the Antarctica field team based at the remote sea ice camp at Big Razorback Island is making continuous sweeps through the numerous Weddell seal pupping colonies to assess all the new pups and moms. The remote sea ice camp should get wireless internet connection soon, and we'll get more real-time updates from the field team when that happens. Wireless internet connection at the sea ice camp is quite amazing. Here's a video from a previous season about how the wireless connection is established, and relayed via satellite:
While we await this season's remote wireless internet connection, and with it direct contact with the field team on the ice, here's an update of what the team is doing at this point in the pupping season.
A day or so after a new pup is born, it is added to the nearly 50 year database of multi-generations of Weddell seals in the Erebus Bay study area. The pup's condition is determined and recorded, as is the location of its birth, and the identity of its mother. The pup is tagged with a very small identity tag, and weighed if its mother is a "known mom"--a Weddell female whose own birth and data are recorded in the longterm database. The pups will be re-weighed at two more points during its approximately 35 to 40 day nursing period. Genetic samples will be obtained, and some pups born to known moms will receive a small temperature/duration recording tag that will be removed at the final pup weighing near weaning time.
This small temp tag will record the surrounding temperature every 6 minutes. Because the air temperature in Antarctica is highly variable, but the water beneath the ice remains a constant 29 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers will be able to determine when the pups were in the water, and for approximately how long. Known moms will also have their mass (weight) assessed. The field team is using a less intrusive approach to assessing a seal's mass using a photogrammetric method that involves photographing the seals and using 3D computer modeling analysis to obtain their mass. At 5 to 8 points in the pupping season, the field team will do a survey of all the Weddell seals in the study area, at all the pupping colonies. This helps ensure accuracy of the season's seal census. Here is a map of the study area showing the main pupping colonies and the location of the remote sea ice field camp at Big Razorback Island.
As we await further contact from the field team, here's our latest short stereoscopic 3D video science story which received a great reception at the recent National Stereoscopic Association/International Stereoscopic Union 3D-Con Stereo Theater premiere screening: