The Seals! – Where are they now?

Seal tag distribution from 15 Ocean2ice seals.  Source:  Mike Fedak, SMRU (

Seal tag distribution from 15 Ocean2ice seals. Source: Mike Fedak, SMRU (

By the time we left the Amundsen Sea on March 4, 2014 a total of 15 seal tags had been attached to 7 Elephant and 8 Weddell Seals. For more detail on the seal tagging ops check out the post from Feb. Quickly, the elephant seals finished their molt and moved off from the haulout. The worry of the Sea Mammal biologists was that they would leave the Amundsen Sea and move out into the Southern Ocean. The Weddell Seals are more reliable in that they tend to stay close to the ice.

Happily for us, none of the seals has left the Amundsen Sea and they have done a marvelous job of spreading distributing themselves through out the Sea and Pine Island Bay, all of which is very promising. It will be fascinating to watch their distribution as the sea ice advances moving into the winter months. In the mean time, the data comes streaming in. We can observe the warm water on the continental shelf, usually below 500-600 m. From the two graphs below, the figure out left shows profiles from a Weddell seal female and on the right from an Elephant seal female. From the graphs, you can see how much deeper the elephant seals go when they dive!


Weddell seal female (left) dive profiles and (right) elephant seal female dive profiles.

Source: Mike Fedak, SMRU (


Source: Mike Fedak, SMRU (

Weddell seal female (left) dive profiles and (right) elephant seal female dive profiles. Source: Mike Fedak, SMRU (


Blog Entry Mar 6th 2014

Just wanted to tell you guys how the tournament went, it was full of surprises, experienced players including myself being beaten by new players, I got beaten on the first round by Rich, it was his third or fourth time playing backgammon then in turn Bastien got beaten by Louise, I thought the game to Louise during the cruise and I felt good by her performance even though I was out of tournament. Brice did pretty well too,going into top four players. In the end Louise won the whole thing and this was remarkable, because she had never played before this trip. At the beginning I taught here, and then she went on to win the entire tournament! She became “the first graduate from backgammon school of Bigdeli (my surname)”. When we arrived in Punta Arenas, she was awarded her prize of the tournament – an excellent bottle of Chilean Carmenere wine. I felt proud of myself. here is the picture.


THE First Graduate

Blog Entry Mar 1st 2014

Our last station is done. From this point forward it will be waiting and enjoying the life on the ship. probably going to set up a backgammon tournament, I started to teach Brice the game about a week ago, lets be honest, he got talent. I am interested to know how he will preform in the tournament.


Going to miss those Niskins

This probably will be my last entry from Antarctica. I hope you guys enjoyed reading our blog




Blog Entry Feb 25th 2014

Well not much is happening at the moment, beside the seal tagging. Brice will probably upload some cool stuff since is he is going on the ice to that. Tomorrow at mid night we will be at shelf break again and we will start to do some sampling, I cut around 70 copper tubes so we are ready. Check Brice’s entries for his adventures with seal tagging team.

Will keep you guys updated.


Seal tagging: Getting to know the charismatic macrofauna

As a chemical oceanographer, if I think about seals for scientific purposes, I’m usually thinking about them once they have been “remineralized” back to their component elements: carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, oxygen (and from the smell of them, sulfur as well).   Today, though, was an entirely different encounter – with organisms that biological oceanographers have taken to calling charismatic macrofauna, because they’re usually cute (from a distance), occasionally fuzzy, and they have big dark eyes that make you want to give them a hug.  Polar bears, orca whales, all manner of penguins, Weddell seals – they fall into this category.  After today, I have to grudgingly admit that elephant seals also fit the description.  Despite their smell, they really are impressive, and they have the endearing tendency of piling on top of each other in a snorting, snoozing mass. By our count, this mass was close to 15 metric tons.  This number was based on our count of 17 seals, the majority of which were males, weighing close to 1.5 tons each.

Their size and generally lazy aspect belies a mysterious animal that dives close to 1000 m deep and typically forages so far from where biologists find them that it is often difficult to know anything about what they eat.   As our seal experts aboard put it, the only thing that we find in their stomachs are squid beaks, so we know they eat those, but the rest is a question mark.  This tendency, to swim far and dive deep, has drawn the attention of oceanographers who are always looking for a “vessel of opportunity” to which we can attach a sensor and collect free data, in a manner of speaking.  Oceanographers put acoustic sensors on ferries, attach weather instruments and surface seawater instruments to cargo ships, and throw profiling floats into the water from any vessel that makes a passage.  But, by far, the most intriguing vessel of opportunity is the elephant seal, which has provided 21,000 depth profiles of temperature and salinity in regions of the ocean, where oceanographers have a hard time reaching – along the ice infested coasts of the southern and arctic oceans where access is limited to the midsummer months and expeditions are routinely thwarted by the difficult working conditions.

Weddell Seal with newly acquired seal tag.

Weddell Seal with newly acquired seal tag.

'That's close enough, back it up!'

“That’s close enough, back it up!”.

Weddell Seal with newly acquired seal tag.

Inspecting the pile of ele seals, looking for those who have already molted.

Weddell Seal with newly acquired seal tag.

Elephant seal with tag on Edward Island.

With this unique access in mind, we embarked with two biologists from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, who have pioneered the use of miniature salinity-temperature-depth recorders that can relay their data via Argo satellite, every time the seal hauls out of the water itself for a sunbath, like the ones we found today.  The process of tagging is relatively simple.   Quick dry epoxy is used to attach the tag near the crown of the seal’s head.  Seals molt skin and fur on an annual basis, so the tag will be shed in the next season’s molt.  If all holds, then the seal will provide a years worth of data.  For everyone’s comfort and safety, the seal is tranquilized with a sedative that wears off completely in about 4 hours.   The biggest difficulty, then is the struggle involved with measuring seal dimensions.    To get the tape measure underneath a 1.5 ton, thoroughly relaxed seal, involves lots of heaving to roll first one way and then the other.  Yesterday, the largest seal measured 4.5 meters in length and 2.9 meters in diameter.  Impressive!

The other entertainment of the day was proffered by the large number of Adele penguins sharing the island with the seals.  This dry ground was evidently a rookery for the Adeles and we encountered an amazing number of Adele chicks that were almost as big as their parents, but covered in grey down as opposed to the sleek coat that the adults have.   The Adele chicks are incessant about their desire to eat and they chase the adults continually around the island begging for food.  At some point, when the parents are fed up, they fling themselves into the water just to get away.  Occasionally, an Adele chick would jump too, but they evidently found the water shockingly unpleasant, because they would turn around and race back to land, looking and acting as if they’d just been betrayed by their.   Dry land that is not snow covered is at a premium along the Antarctic Coast.  This was the case with the Edward Islands, a prime spot for all the wildlife that happened upon it.  I would’ve enjoyed spending the rest of the cruise there, hanging out with the penguins and snoozing with the seals.

Blog Entry Feb 17th 2014

It is final we are going to use single samples instead of doubles, it will be 6 casts. Averaging 10 samples we will do around 60 samples in the next 16 hours, I think I will take the first 8 hours since I am not feeling sleepy at all.  Not much to write about that, I will post the interesting stuff about sampling tomorrow.


Arash doing samples

Sealing the samples

Will keep you guys updated.