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.
A group of researchers led by Dr. Dan Costa, including Dr. Patrick Robinson, and graduate students Kimberly Goetz, Jen Maresh and Luis Huckstadt from UC Santa Cruz, and graduate student Linnea Pearson from University of Alaska Fairbanks, came down to McMurdo Station), Ross Island, Antarctica for the second part of the Weddell seal project (see Antarctic Weddell Seal Tagging Project) that started last January. This season will be dedicated to recovering the instruments that were deployed on seals last January, and conduct some more physiological research to understand the seasonal changes in this species, the southernmost breeding in the world.
We arrived to McMurdo Station in early October, and our first two weeks here were dedicated to a very intense training to being able to conduct our field activities in an environment as harsh as the Antarctic continent. For those of us who had not been here before, that included spending a night sleeping at a tent with a wind chill of -36.4 deg F (yep, that's cold), learning how to work on sea ice (being able to recognize cracks and crevasses hidden in the snow, which you probably want to avoid), and a lot of information that is really necessary to survive the ever-changing weather of this continent.
But after all the hard training, we have had our reward. We have been successfully catching Weddell seals for the past month, recovering instruments, and getting the samples we need to study their foraging ecology and physiology. This is a really special time of the year too, as we are here during the breeding season of the species, and seal pups make life much better in the field. Weddell seals are really curious creatures, and their pups sometimes are really interested in those strange creatures walking on two legs, wearing a big red coat. And since Weddell seals are not the center of the world, we've also enjoyed the many sightings of crabeater seals, Adelie and emperor penguins, and even some orcas!
Emperor penguin near the sea ice edge, Ross Sea. Photo by L. Huckstadt
There's also been some time to play a bit, which is a really good thing to do in a place as special as this. We have visited Shackleton's and Scott's historical huts in Ross Island, an opportunity to learn something about the harsh conditions that the early explorers had to endure in the 1900's, but also to really appreciate the facilities that we have available today!
The "Weddell seal Team 2". From left to right: Dr. Daniel Costa, Dr. Patrick Robinson, Linnea Pearson,
Kimberly Goetz, Jen Maresh and Luis Huckstadt. Photo by D. Costa.
We will be flying back home soon, but not for long! The next season starts in January, so a new group will be here again, deploying new tags on Weddell seals and, sure enough, enjoying this incredible part of our planet.