Melt Pools and Mistaken Identities

Our first Week 5 sampling day couldn’t come soon enough, after we were stuck inside all week because of weather. As much fun as we have analyzing data and labeling tubes, we practically busted out of the lab to go work on our first pup, Macaroni!

After all the equipment struggles we had during Week 3, we were amazed when all our gear and equipment worked flawlessly the whole week. That doesn’t mean we had it easy though… Our struggles this week came in the form of larger sea ice cracks, abundant melt pools (formed by the melting of surface layers of ice), and snow obscuring all of these new developments. Our first few procedures went great, especially now that we were basically professional tripod operators.

Our second metabolic pup was our first bump of the week. We were supposed to be working on King, but we couldn’t find him anywhere. We spotted a pup on the far side of a pressure ridge, and we were all sure it was King because we saw that he had an accelerometer on his shoulder. It never dawned on us to check our notes to see if we had actually put an accelerometer on King, but we spent the day anyways waiting out “King” to see if he would move to a better spot. Unfortunately, the pup didn’t budge, and we had to leave with no data for the day. When we came back the next day, lo and behold, King was hauled out in a fantastic spot right near our hut! We quickly and successfully captured him, then realized he was missing the accelerometer we had seen the other day. We looked all over him for a patch of fur where the tag could have been, but we couldn’t see it. It finally occurred to us to check our notes to confirm we had actually put an accelerometer on him, and it turned out we had not – we spent the whole previous day waiting for the wrong pup! The moral of this story is to always double check which pups have which tags.

Our week was a day longer than usual because we lost a day of data collection waiting for “King,” who was actually Chinstrap. The rest of the week went really well; the weather was excellent, our pups were in good spots, and the procedures were efficient. The last pup we always work is Little Blue, and he seems to know this because he loves to challenge us when we are the most fatigued. Little Blue and “Momzilla” were on the other side of all the cracks, pressure ridges, and breathing holes from our hut, so again we had to devise a safe capture plan. We were able to find the narrowest part of the cracks, which was about a foot across but pretty deep with open water underneath. Luckily, Momzilla got in the water right before we got to her pup, so we had one less element to worry about. We got a very wiggly and resistant Little Blue into our capture net, rolled him in the sled, and with people on either side of the narrow crack we tactically pushed/pulled him across. After the wet-defying capture, the rest of the procedure went swimmingly!

Our pups have gotten pretty chunky since Week 3. Our largest is still Emperor at over 250 lbs, and our smallest is Adelie at 165 lbs; so we basically spent the week wrestling the offensive line of a high school football team. The pups are all starting to wean (stop nursing from their moms), so at Week 7 we expect them to have lost some weight while they are learning how to forage without the extra calories from mom’s milk. We also expect our pups to be on their way to Olympic-level swimmers! Hopefully we will not need to do any Olympic-level pole vaults across cracks to get to our pups.

Written by: Emma Weitzner

Heather Liwanag