Saturday, November 29, 2003

Fieldwork is winding down already - we've completed 6 of the 8 surveys of the seal population here. We are seeing between 900 and 1100 animals on each survey which is definitely more than last year. The edge of the sea ice is much closer this year, and hence there is less fast ice north of Erebus Bay on which the seals can haul out. It's possible that the young, non-breeding seals that were hauled out in areas north of Erebus Bay last year are congregating down here in the southern end of McMurdo Sound this year.

We took a helicopter over to the west side of McMurdo sound a couple weeks ago to look for animals tagged in our study area that might now be breeding in colonies over there. We only found a few, and we tagged the new pups so that if they turn up back in Erebus Bay, we will know from whence they came. The first colony we stopped at was at Marble Point, which is on the actual Antarctic continent (up to this point we've only set foot on Ross Island, where McMurdo is). The following is a photo of our crew at Marble point:

Another colony we spied from the air was at a tidal crack which had formed along an iceberg frozen into the sea ice:

As we returned to Big Razorback along the ice edge, we stopped near this big group of Emperors, who were pretty intrigued with our helicopter :

We saw Emperors swimming and diving in open water along the edge of the sea ice - a new experience for us as last year the open water was far to the north.

Here's a photo of a female crabeater seal which has spent most of the season hanging out at Tent Island in our study area - for the most part, crabeaters spend their time in the pack ice environment but this one likes the fast ice for some reason. It is the only non-Weddell seal we have seen this year. Their pelage is a uniform silvery color, where the Weddell seal is darker and mottled. The crabeater also seems to be a bit more agressive than the Weddell.

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