Research Overview

Research Overview

Antarctic Study Trip (1999)

Introduction

On December 15, 1999 Drs. Pamela Yochem and Brent Stewart of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute began the lengthy trip to Antarctica. Once there, the two research biologists collaborated with an international panel of scientists studying pack-ice seals in Antarctica from December, 1999 through February, 2000. The team traveled aboard the R.V. Palmer in the eastern Ross and western Amundsen seas.

Environment

The average temperature in the area is -18°C (0°F), although the summer sees temperatures reaching up to 8°C (46°F). The seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are opposite of our own; during winter in North America, the scientists in Antarctica experience summer conditions.

Study Focus

SEALS

  • The pack ice area surrounding Antarctica contains at least 50% of the earth's population of seals, making it an important area of study.
  • As a team, the Antarctic Pack Ice Seal Program (APIS) examined at least 40 individuals of each of the Antarctic pack-ice seals: Ross seals, Weddell seals, leopard seals, and crabeater seals. Scientists were looking at the overall health of the Antarctic pack ice seals during the cruise.

PENGUINS

  • Dr. Gerry Kooyman, of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, estimated that around 24,000 emperor chicks were fledged at the large colony of emperor penguins at Cape Washington in 1991. Brent and Pam attempted to obtain aerial photographs and some ground counts of chicks to compare with Dr. Kooyman's earlier surveys to assist his evaluations of long term trends. Dr. Kooyman has been a pioneer of studies of penguins and Weddell seals in the Antarctic for several decades.

Going Further...

Drs. Yochem and Stewart arrived back from the Antarctic just after Christmas but their studies are still continuing by remotely monitoring (by earth-orbiting satellite) the movements and behaviors of 9 weaned Weddell Seal pups. Their goals in the study are two-fold: First, they are trying to learn where the young seals go once they are weaned at about 6-8 weeks of age when they become totally independent of their mothers. Nothing has been known about this until now, though it is a very important part of the natural history and ecology of Weddell seals.

Second, they are evaluating the health (using standard veterinary physical exams, and also using blood samples for various diagnostic purposes) of a sample of individuals in the population to determine base-line population status (to compare with other populations and the McMurdo population through time). The researchers will also evaluate the influence of health and size of animals on their movements and survival. Stay tuned, as the two researchers will be returning to the Antarctic for more work in November, 2000.