Weddell Seals in the Ross Sea 2014


Alex also made a website! Check it out at where she included all sorts of activities for this expedition.

What Are They Doing?

A Weddell seal near McMurdo Station, AntarcticaA Weddell seal near McMurdo Station, Antarctica (Photo by Alex Eilers) The team traveled daily to Weddell seal haul out sites on the sea ice near McMurdo Station. While on location, the team found female seals, gently sedated them, and took a variety of biological samples – weight, size (length and girth), took blood samples, and collected tissue samples. They also took thermal images of the seals to see how much heat the seal was losing to the environment. A time-depth recorder also was placed on the seals hind flipper to record the seals' dive behaviors. The team will return the next season in an attempt to relocate the seals, take biological data, collect the tags, and determine if the seals have pupped.

This data was collected and analyzed in an attempt to learn more about what drives the timing of a seal's critical life history events – such as breeding and molting – and how disruptions in that natural cycle by changes in climate and environment might affect the world's southernmost mammal.

Where Are They?

McMurdo Station, AntarcticaMcMurdo Station, Antarctica (Photo by Robin Ellwood) While in Antarctica, the research team lived at McMurdo Station, the U.S. Antarctic Science Center. McMurdo Station is 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.


Memphis, TN, to Columbus, OH
Ohio or Bust- Road Trip Even though I returned from Antarctica back in December, I have been busy! So what have I been up to? Before I left for Antarctica, I went to visit different schools to talk to students about what the team would be doing in Antarctica. Now that I am back, I have continued these school visits to share highlights from the team’s research in Antarctica with the students who followed our journey. Usually the schools I visit are local schools, but Patrick, museum’s project mascot, and I decided to take a special road trip! This time instead of heading south towards...
Seal selfie
Field work update We last left you with 12 seals worked this field season. I’m happy to announce that we have completed all 24 seals. Here’s how the breakdown looks. We worked: 8 early moms 8 skip females 8 late moms If you missed a summary of the first ½ of the season, you can catch up here For an introduction to the study, click here Seal colony. Photo credit: Alex Eilers. Field day 9, November 27 Field day 9 took us back to our first successful location, Turks Head, where we worked with WS14-13. I got to name this seal. Since my lucky number is 13, we decided to name this...
Vince's cross
Meet McMurdo: Hike to Discovery Hut Meet McMurdo - Discovery Hut. I’ve got ‘good’ news and ‘bad’ news. Since I like to end things on a positive note, let’s start with the ‘bad’ news, first. The ‘bad’ news… Our flight off the continent has been postponed, for several days. We will likely not leave until Saturday, at the earliest. Now for the ‘good’ news…While I was looking forward to going home, I’m not too disappointed because I was not able to visit Discovery Hut. And now, because we have some ‘extra’ time, I’m able to make the hike. So, are you up for another hike, today? Let’s...
Alex ready with the fire hose
Meet McMurdo - Fire Department Meet McMurdo Fire Department Even in this extreme environment, I’m constantly surprised at how similar McMurdo Station is to the way things are back at home. This includes firefighters! But as I look around, I don’t see any brush that can catch on fire, and there aren’t any trees for kittens to get stuck in. (Oh wait, there aren’t any kittens here either). So, I wondered, how do firefighters spend their days? Let’s take a quick jaunt over to the Fire Station to find out. Fire Station McMurdo has two fire stations. Station 1, the main station, as you...
Ob hill
McMurdo Adventure Our McMurdo adventure is nearing the end. It’s hard to believe, the time has flown by, so I thought I’d share a few of my recent adventures. During my first trip here, I was so busy with our research project that I didn’t get to see and explore everything McMurdo has to offer. And the one thing I was really disappointed I missed was a hike up Observation Hill, especially since we saw this sights every day last time. So, I was determined to fit it in to my busy schedule this time around! Are you up for a hike? Observation Hill Several team members decided to tackle...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

6 November 2014 to 19 December 2014
Location: McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Project Funded Title: The Cost of a New Fur Coat: Interactions between reproduction and molt in Weddell Seals in Erebus Bay, Antarctica

Meet the Team

Alex Eilers's picture
Pink Palace Museum
Memphis, TN
United States

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.

Jennifer Burns's picture
University of Alaska
Anchorage, AK
United States

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.

Ward Testa's picture
Alaska Ecosystem Program, National Marine Mammal Laboratory
Anchorage, AK
United States

Dr. Ward Testa is a Wildlife Biologist for the Alaska Ecosystems Program at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), a part of NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) within the National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS) in Seattle. Through a co-operative arrangement with the University of Alaska, Testa is located in the Department of Biological Sciences on the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage. In addition to his research duties for NMML, he is an affiliate faculty at UAA and teaches a graduate course in Wildlife Population Dynamics. Ward will not be in the field during summer 2015-2016

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Latest Comments

The flame retardants detected in sediments near the treatment plant outfall actually arise from indoor dust within the base, rather than from our bodies. We also measured them in McMurdo indoor...
Hello Terilyn & Taelyn it is so great to hear from you! Sorry for the delay in my response, just got back to the office after a bit of a rest. Hope you both had a wonderful holiday! Hope you...
Hi Alex, I am so excited for you and your team. My daughter and I received our post cards today, we will be traveling to Antarctica tonight via Google earth. Thank you for this opportunity for us to...
Anne, What a great question! While I'm not sure about the maximum speed, Weddell seals typically swim at about 2 meters per second. That is much faster that they move on land. Weddell seals...