Now Archived! PolarConnect event with Bridget Ward and researcher Heather Liwanag studying Weddell Seals from McMurdo Station, Antarctica. This event was broadcast on Monday, 4 November 2019. You can access this and other events on the PolarConnect Archives site

What Are They Doing?

A Weddell seal and pup out on the sea ice near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Alex Eilers.
A Weddell seal and pup out on the sea ice near McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Photo by Alex Eilers.
Weddell seals are one of the best studied seals and a classic example of adaptation to the extreme Antarctic environment. A large body size and thick blubber layer help them to stay warm both on and under the ice. Their streamlined shape, body oxygen stores, and collapsible lungs allow them to reach dive depths of 600 meters (almost 2,000 feet!) and remain under water for over an hour. However, they do not begin life with these advantages. Weddell seal pups are born on the sea ice with a small body size and almost no blubber.

The question is: What does it take for a Weddell seal to survive and successfully make the transition between two extreme environments – above and below the Antarctic sea ice – in only a matter of weeks? To answer this, Cal Poly scientists and a marine mammal veterinarian will venture to Antarctica to study the development of thermoregulation and diving in Weddell seals.

Where Are They?

A view of McMurdo Station from Ob Hill. Photo by Tim Spuck.
A view of McMurdo Station from Ob Hill. Photo by Tim Spuck.
While in Antarctica, the research team will be living at McMurdo Station, the U.S. Antarctic Science Center. McMurdo is the capable of housing up to 1,258 residents, the largest community in Antarctica. McMurdo Station is on Ross Island, a volcanic island (with the southernmost active volcano, Mt. Erebus) south of New Zealand in the Ross Sea. McMurdo Station has its own science labs, engineering centers, dormitories, galley (kitchen), and even a US post office.

Latest Journals

One of my favorite things to do in Antarctica was lay on the ice and feel all the sounds that the Weddell seals below the ice were making. Sometimes the loud volume even made me second guess if the ice was really thick enough to hold my weight. As I got more comfortable on the ice I got closer and…
Today marks 50 days since I left the Ice. Though I am glad to be home and was able to enjoy the holiday season with my friends and family I definitely miss working in Antarctica. This journal entry describes my typical day in the field. Thank you for following. I was always exhausted and I loved it…
Have you ever been on a flight home and dreamed of yourself, collecting your baggage, purchasing a new ticket, and flying back to where you just came from? Well, that is what I really wanted to do. But, you cannot do that when you are coming home from McMurdo station, I checked. McMurdo station…
One of the essential questions our team is investigating is: When are Weddell seal pups ready to go in the water? To answer that question our team measures the pups metabolic rates, how much energy they are using to maintain their body temperature, in and out of water. Watch the video below to…
McMurdo Station
Project Funded Title
Growing Up on Ice: Physiological Adaptations and Developmental Plasticity in Weddell Seal Pups Across Two Extreme Physical Environments.
Bridget Ward - Teacher
Springfield Central High School

Bridget Ward grew up in the small town of Wales, Massachusetts. She has been teaching at Central High School in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts for ten years. Her courses include biology, pre-AP biology, pre-AP biology laboratories, and AP environmental science. Bridget attended Westfield State University and earned both a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education in Secondary Biology.

Since graduating she has continued seeking out additional educational experiences including traveling to the Galápagos with the University of Arizona to study Marine Biology and to Costa Rica with Texas A&M University as an EarthWatch Fellow learning about the implementation of conservation policies.

While she was growing up, Bridget's parents encouraged learning through exploration by traveling around the world. She continues this exploration by taking advantage of school vacations to visit new locations and uses these experiences to develop new lessons. She believes strongly in teaching geo-literacy in the classroom and engages students in curricula by addressing how what they are learning is applicable in life beyond the classroom.

Heather Liwanag - Researcher
California Polytechnic State University

Dr. Heather Liwanag is a comparative physiologist at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She is interested in the physiological adaptations of animals to their environment, and the evolutionary processes involved in those adaptations. Much of her research has focused on thermoregulation (the regulation of body temperature) and energetics (metabolic rates) in vertebrate animals, including seals, sea lions, and even lizards. Her current project is studying the development of thermoregulation and diving in Weddell seal pups in Antarctica.

Melissa Voisinet - Researcher
California State Polytechnic University

Weddell Seals: Growing Up on Ice Resources


This lesson investigates the effects of different insulators (fur and blubber) on maintaining the body temperature of polar animals. Water balloons filled with warm water simulate the marine mammal. The blubber insulator will be simulated by covering the balloon in vegetable shortening. The fur insulator will be simulated by placing another balloon over the “marine mammal” and adding an air layer (blowing it up).

There are two options for this lesson, regular and advanced.

About 1 period
Middle School and Up
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The PolarTREC Field Experience

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Archive of a live event with teacher Bridget Ward and researcher Dr. Heather Liwanag broadcasted live from McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Bridget and Heather discuss the research that they are working on and what it takes for a Weddell seal to survive and successfully make the transition between two extreme environments – above and below the Antarctic sea ice – in only a matter of weeks. This event was broadcast on 4 November 2019.

A worksheet to accompany the presentation is attached separately.

News story published on 4 October 2019 on Bridget Ward's research trip to Antarctica.

Mass Live article coverage on Bridget Ward's expedition to Antarctica. The link to the story can be found here. A PDF of the story is also available for downloading.

All Aged
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This investigation allows students to explore the geography of Antarctica and become an active member of the citizen science project, PenguinWatch.


Students will:

More than a week
High school and Up
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