Weddell Seal Expedition: Searching for Seals

Patrick Robinson in the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica--After two weeks of transit and oceanography work, we are now ready to begin searching for Weddell seals.  We are in the southeastern Weddell sea in an area where chief scientist Keith Nicholls spotted animals on previous expeditions.  Weddell seals prefer areas of dense sea ice over the continental shelf in waters between 400-700 meters depth. The seals spend most of their time in the water diving and foraging, but we are looking for animals that have hauled out on the sea ice to rest. 

Chief scientist Keith Nicholls and Captain John Harper search for seals from the bridge of the RRS Shackleton. Photo: Patrick Robinson

 

Finding these seals can be a difficult task.  First, we spend hours up on the bridge of the ship scanning the surrounding sea ice with binoculars.  When one of us spots an animal, we ask the captain to direct the ship so we can take a closer look.  More often than not, the animal turns out to be a crabeater seal or even a leopard seal (both species look very similar to Weddell seals). When we find a Weddell seal, we take a careful look to ensure it is a healthy animal with fur that has fully molted (so our satellite tag will remain attached).  The captain then inspects the ice floe to be sure he can get us to the seal safely.

 

 

Crabeater Seal. Photo: Patrick Robinson

 

 Leopard Seal. Photo: Patrick Robinson

Weddell Seal. Photo: Keith Makinson
 

Our view of a seal from the bridge of the ship.  Can you identify the species of this seal? Photo: Patrick Robinson

 

 

 We have several days to complete the tagging, so wish us luck as we search for Weddell seals!