Daniel Costa, Jennifer Burns, Mary Zavanelli, Michelle Shero and Luis Huckstadt, from McMurdo Station, Antarctica -
Field team January 2011 with the last tagged Weddell seal . First row (left to right): Dr. Dan Costa, Dr. Mary Zavanelli. Standing (left to right): Luis Huckstadt, Dr. Jennifer Burns, Michelle Shero . Photo by Dan Costa.
Luis Huckstadt, Patrick Robinson, Kim Goetz, Jen Maresh in McMurdo Station, Antarctica-
If you want to study top predators, you have to follow them. That's it, no way around it (or at least we like to see it that way). So, as the enthusiastic biologists that we are, we were somehow happy about the new challenge in sight: Go to the white continent to study Weddell seals (Part II) right when the "spring season" would be hitting the continent, and the weather was changing from horrible to bad.
Despite a slow start to the field season, we kept ourselves occupied with various outdoor survival trainings and gear prepping in the lab. While we were hoping to deploy tags soon after our arrival in Antarctica, this delay was a welcomed event while we patiently waited for the Weddell seals to complete their annual molt. However, as more time passed, we realized that we would have a lot of work ahead of us in order to deploy all 22 tags in the time remaining.
Kimberly Goetz at McMurdo Station, Antarctica--On January 16th, Dr. Jennifer Burns and I donned our gear and headed to helo operations. The goal of the mission was to fly within Erebus Bay and along the Victoria Land coastline of McMurco Sound in search of Weddell seals to tag during the next few weeks. We not only needed to locate sizable groups of seals, but we needed to locate them on ice that was strong enough to support a helo loaded with 6 people and all our gear.
Kimberly Goetz at McMurdo Station, Antarctica--This project required months of preparation. In fact, preparations began more than 6 months before traveling south! Seal tags were calibrated, prepped, programmed and tested; field gear was gathered, packed, and shipped; permit applications were submitted; logistics were arranged; medical clearances were obtained. The list seems to go on and on with many long nights spent at the lab.
Kimberly Goetz at McMurdo Station, Antarctica--Two groups of researchers led by Dan Costa (at UC Santa Cruz) and Jennifer Burns (at the University of Alaska) are traveling down to Antarctica to study Weddell seals in one of the most uninhabited places on Earth. Very little is known about Weddell seals and their ocean environment because it is very difficult and expensive to conduct studies in this harsh environment. We will use advanced tagging technology to study both the winter behavior and the environment of the Weddell seal over
Patrick Robinson at Signy Island--After completing most of the science work for the expedition, the ship stopped at Halley Station (a British research base on the Brunt ice shelf) to pick up about 25 people and drop off supplies for the folks who will remain there during the winter. This station is unique because it is built on a thick ice shelf rather than land. The buildings must be raised on stilts to prevent the inevitable accumulation of snow from burying them over the course of several years.
Patrick Robinson at the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica--Yesterday, we were in search of our 10th and final seal and found an ice floe with several seals. We prepared our gear and went out onto the ice to get a closer look. Unfortunately, the seals were a bit too young for our study (we are tagging adult animals). So, we hiked back to the ship and continued our search. We continued scanning through binoculars from the bridge for the remainder of the day, but saw only crabeater seals.
Patrick Robinson at the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica--We tagged three additional Weddell seals yesterday to bring our total up to nine and the seals are already sending us interesting data. The seals have already collected more than four times the number of CTD profiles collected by the ship! Here is a sample of the various data sent back to us from the tags:
Patrick Robinson at the Eastern Weddell Sea, Antarctica-- The Weddell seal tagging is off to a great start. We have been quite busy over the past 2 days and have already deployed 6 of the 10 tags! This is how we do it: After we have located a seal from the bridge of the ship, we assemble a team of people to go out onto the ice. We don our cold-weather gear and bring our tagging supplies to the main deck of the ship. To get to the ice, we have to be lowered by a crane (I will admit, this part is actually quite fun!).