Weddell Seals in the Ross Sea
PolarConnect Event with Alex Eilers on 13 February 2012 from McMurdo station. You can access the archives for this event by visiting the PolarConnect Archives.
What Are They Doing?
Weddell seals live in the region surrounding Antarctica, and spend their time on sea ice and in the water. They get most of their food from the sea, eating fish, krill, squid, and crustaceans. They are able to stay underwater for about 80 minutes while they look for food, and are known for making very deep dives of up to 700 meters (2300 feet).
The research team was interested in learning more about Weddell seals by studying how they dive and forage for food during the winter, when days are shorter and there is more sea ice cover. They were also interested in collecting oceanographic data, such as water temperature and salinity.
The research team collected this information by traveling to places where Weddell seals were hauled out on the sea ice, and briefly capturing them. Once they captured a seal, they conducted an exam in order to determine its health and condition. The researchers also put a satellite-linked dive recorder on each seal that they captured. These devices transmit data showing where, how often, and how deep the seals are diving. In addition, the devices record the temperature and salinity of the water where seals are diving.
Currently there is not a lot of information about how Weddell seals find food during the winter. Without this information, it is difficult to predict how seals will respond to changing environmental conditions. By using the seals to collect ocean data, the team has collected important information which is used to develop models to predict the role of the Southern Ocean in global climate processes.
Where Are They?
The team was based in McMurdo Station, 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. The team traveled daily to seal haul outs and worked on the sea ice outside of McMurdo Station.
Meet the Team
Growing up in Chillicothe, Illinois, Alice Eilers dreamed of becoming a teacher. Ms. Eilers began her schooling at the University of Mississippi, receiving her undergraduate degree in Elementary Education in 1990 and completing her graduate degree at the University of Memphis six years later. In 1995 her dreams of becoming a teacher became a reality and she began her teaching career at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Ms. Eilers is currently the Manager of Education and has had the pleasure of teaching a variety of subjects including astronomy, natural and cultural history to area Pre-K through 8th grade students. Ms. Eilers has also been involved in number of national teacher professional development programs. In 2008, she was selected to participate in a research project studying Leatherback Sea Turtles through the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Ms. Eilers is in the MESSENGER Educator Fellowship Program and has also participated in the UMASS-STEM Polar Connections Program.
Daniel Costas is a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz. His research focuses on the adaptations of marine mammals and seabirds to life in the marine environment, by studying their diving, foraging, and searching behaviors. Please read more about Dr. Costas research on the Costa Lab website.
Dr. Jennifer Burns' research focuses on understanding how the age and physiological status of juvenile marine mammals influences their diving and foraging capacities, and on how differences in rates of physiological development impact life history traits. Burns currently has an active research program focused on understanding whether the rate and extent of neonatal physiological development is closely correlated with the onset of independent foraging. In her research, Burns uses a wide variety of analytical tools including computerized dive recorders, satellite telemetry and GIS techniques, as well as several more hands-on techniques such as measuring heart rate and respiration patterns, energy use, and animal condition and health status.
Eileen Hofmann is a professor of Oceanography at the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography within Old Dominican University. Dr. Hofmann has a wide variety of research interests ranging from describing physical oceanography to mathematical modeling of marine ecosystems.