Weddell Seals

I'm headed off to a field camp tomorrow, specifically Siple Dome. The weather promises to be cold. It's -37 degrees Fahrenheit there now, and that doesn't include windchill. I'm excited about the work I'll be doing there, but I'm also excited about going to a place so remote.

But before I go, I wanted to tell you about weddell seals. I've seen several over the past week, because the females swim up through the cracks in the sea ice to give birth. Almost all pups are born in the month of October, making summer at McMurdo a prime place to see some pups.


Researchers here at McMurdo have been tagging and tracking weddell seals for several decades, correlating local environmental conditions as well as information about individual seals with their reproductive fitness and life span. They've learned that the seal population is steady, and quite a bit about what makes a female more likely to reproduce, and what makes a male capable of standing his ground. One thing they are particularly interested is how mothers transfer mass to their pups. Just before giving birth a mother weighs about 1000 pounds, but she weighs only 500 pounds after the birthing season.


Weddell seal pups are adorable. They spend most of their time, cuddling, eating or sleeping as they grow large enough to survive attacks from killer whales and leopard seals in their adolescence. I heard them whimpering just like puppies as I hiked around the Observation Hill trail a few days ago. They're even cuter up close though. Watch this baby seal learning to swim.