Weddell Seals in the Ross Sea 2014
What Are They Doing?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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