After a week full of challenges, we woke up on Sunday to a beautiful day. The sun was out, the wind was down, and the temperature had warmed up all the way to -3°F! Besides making it easier for us to get around, nice weather is also enticing for the seals. On days like that there is always a good chance of finding them hauled out on the ice. We used the day to regroup and clean and fix gear in town, but stayed close to our phones just in case we received a GPS hit from one of our seals.
By 3pm it seemed like we might be out of luck, but the seals surprised us. Within an hour of each other both seals were on the surface! We quickly geared up and headed out to retrieve our instruments. The GPS placed both Ned and Aronnax next to the new hole we had drilled, and when we pulled up we found them both napping contentedly on the ice.
We quickly removed everything and released the seals to let them continue their nap. All of the instruments were still in place and intact. It was only Sunday, but already it was a very successful week!
Now that we had our instruments back it was time to find new volunteers. After downloading and recharging everything overnight, we were ready to get back out there on Monday. It was another beautiful day and we were hopeful that we would quickly find seals hauling out.
It took a little longer than we expected, but by early afternoon we had found our 3rd volunteer. We decided to take a small departure from the naming scheme for this week. On a suggestion from a friend of the lab we decided to name our newest seal R2-Seal2 in honor of the other-worldly environment we found ourselves working in.
R2-Seal2 was eager for science and stayed with us all night providing us with some great respiration data! On Tuesday he decided he wanted to explore the area and took off to see what was out there. After everything he had given us, we decided to open the escape hole and see if we could get the instruments back early. We knew a storm was moving in on Wednesday, so we headed back to town to wait for R2-Seal2 to haul out.
The first phase of our study was coming to an end so we needed to get back out quickly to make the most of the remaining time. First thing Thursday morning we headed back out to look for one last seal. We made it all the way out to Tent Island before finding any. After taking a closer look we realized that all 3 were pregnant females who we decided to leave alone, although we did get the chance to see a crabeater seal hauled out close by!
We had struck out on finding a new seal, but on our way back into town the GPS went off. R2-Seal2 was already out on the ice! Hurrying back, we soon had our instruments in hand and as we headed back into town we spotted an ice hole that had not been visible from the main road. Intent on checking it for seals in the morning, we called it a night. R2-Seal2 had saved the day!
The sun was just up as we hit the ice Friday morning. Our first stop was the ice hole we spotted the day before. Finding a seal there would save us a lot of time searching and traveling over the ice. Our luck from Thursday evening held. We found our 4th volunteer!
Thanks to the early start and close location we were able to instrument and release our newest seal by early afternoon. Keeping with our new naming scheme to finish this phase, we dubbed him Seal-3PO and kept a close eye out for him as we set up the respirometry hood for the last time this season.
Over the next 8 hours Seal-3PO came and went as he pleased, breathing under the dome when we wasn’t off exploring the area. He wasn’t as reliable as R2-Seal2, but still provided us with enough data to make this the most successful week of the project so far!
As winfly comes to a close we will start transitioning over to Phase 2 of our project for the season. That means moving our huts and preparing the equipment to study how these incredible seals navigate under the ice. It’s going to be a busy week!