Pup Catch-up

It has been quite a whirlwind for our seal team! Upon arrival at McMurdo, the support staff on station, which includes a whole variety of folks (for Antarctic science, it takes a village!), including but not limited to the Crary Laboratory (where the scientists are provided with offices, labs, and lab gear), Field Safety (providing sea ice training, monitoring and flagging of roads on the sea ice, and glacier travel if needed), MacOps (the communication center), and the MEC (providing snowmobiles and pistenbully and associated training), equipped our team in a few short days. This allowed us to quickly mobilize and get out to our field camp at Big Razorback Island, and we were immediately thrust into Weddell seal pupping season!

 View from the back of the Pistenbully, crew members Thomas and Shane following behind.

Big Razorback Camp - home sweet home. 5 total huts: kitchen, gear, men's, womens, and the Center of Excellence (aka, the outhouse). We are powered by solar panels and heated by propane.

One of the project's biggest priorities is to tag every new pup in the study area. With a few low visibility weather days thrown in the mix, preventing us from getting out to the pupping colonies, we've had some big days out on the ice when the weather clears. However, an even bigger priority is safety on the ice, which means first creating "roads" to the pupping colonies. We drill holes into the sea ice and plant bamboo flags every 100m. These are our safety lines if weather goes bad, and can be our only means of navigating back to station or field camp.

Pulling a 100 m rope behind a snowmobile, we are able to measure out distance between bamboo flags. Making straight roads is an art! Hutton Cliffs pupping colony is in the background.

Alissa may look cold, but she's actually overheated from drilling! Note the flag line in the background. The Delbridge Islands - Big Razorback blurred with Tent Island - are on the right side of the photo, the Royal Society Range in the background.

 Kaitlin in a losing battle ;)

Several storms have dropped an unusually (from my past experiences) large amount of snow that is blowing and drifting. These are the yellow steps into the men's hut and the kitchen hut with the yellow door is in the background. An extra generator is in the red box in case we need it.

The pupping is going gang-busters this season and we are all looking forward to seeing the final tally. Our team of 8 are on the ice every day (weather permitting) working long, exhausting hours trying to keep up with the pupping. We need to know when pups are being born and who is giving birth to whom.

 The team, attired in our "Little Reds", getting trained by Kaitlin. This is the "thumbs up" south side of Big Razorback Island where many seals haul out onto the ice. The tidal crack along the island allows them access to the airy world.

 Setting out to check seal tags along Big Razorback Island, looking to the north. Some seals are visible, having hauled out along the edge of the island.

Emperor penguins have made a big showing this year with the sea ice edge so close to the study area. They are, as their name suggests, quite regal in their behavior. This is a male Weddell seal in the background, just chillin' like Weddells do. Our field camp is at the far left, Little Razorback Island is center, Big Razorback is far right, and the active and steaming volcano, Mt. Erebus, is in the background.

 How many seal scientists does it take to enter data into a field computer, stay organized, and prepare pup tags? Here's your answer! Just kidding, still in training here!

Strolling back to the snowmobiles after checking for pups. This is the view looking south from Turtle Rock, another pupping colony. Red-flagged poles are our probes which we use to determine safe places to walk when near the cracks that the seals love, oh, so much.

The reason for the season. A "freshie". Mom will wean the pup in 35 days after transferring her well-earned mass to the pup. More on that to come!

All photos acquired under NMFS Permit #21158.