We were excited to get started with our last sampling week of the season! Because the weather had gotten better, we knew the ice would be changing in unpredictable ways; so we started a day early to give ourselves a bit of a buffer, in case we had trouble finding or being able to safely get to one of our pups.
We started with Macaroni, who is one of our favorite pups because she is still a floppy little noodle. To our surprise, she was actually in a good spot! At this point we had not seen her with her mom in several days, and we noticed she had lost some weight, which means had weaned (stopped nursing) from her mom and was now on her own. It takes a while for baby seals to adjust from getting a regular supply of super fatty milk to learning to hunt and eat fish on their own, so it’s normal for them to lose a bit of weight at first. But she otherwise looked good. As for the science… Her procedure went very well, and we said a bittersweet good-bye to our first seal pup of the study.
The next day was Emperor, our biggest seal pup, who weighed in at a whopping 141 kg (311 lbs)! Even though he looked like a mini-adult because of his new coat of fur, Emperor turned out to be a mama’s boy. He was nearly as big as his mom, but he had not weaned. It seems his mom had a different strategy than Macaroni’s… She was giving him everything she could in the hopes that it would give him a better head start as he learns to forage on his own. We hope it works!
We were feeling sentimental as we worked with each of our pups for the last time. Little Adelie – our feisty little fighter – was still with mom. Rockhopper – named for her tendency to be near cracks, above and below the ice – was on her own and looking like a strong young seal. King – nicknamed King “Chub Chub” because of his big blubber layer, Gentoo – our itchy little pup who was always scratching, and Little Blue – a sweet little pup who had still not shed his baby fur – had all weaned by 7 weeks; but Chinstrap – who liked to chew on everything but really just wanted to cuddle with his mom – was another mama’s boy. The ice was changing every day, and we had to cross a couple cracks with open water and several breathing holes to get to King and Gentoo. Thankfully we had practiced our seal sled techniques with Little Blue in previous weeks, which helped our team navigate the icy terrain like experts.
All of the pups have been swimming more, and we wish them success as they begin to venture out on their own. We won’t be able to see them next year, because juvenile seals don’t come back to the breeding colonies until they are older. So we have to hope for the best as we leave this amazing place and our field season ends. What a wonderful adventure this has been! I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to have been to be a part of this. We are looking forward to coming back next year and learning even more about these incredible animals.
Written by: Heather Liwanag