After waiting a week for Ned to come out, we decided it was time to find a second volunteer. Unfortunately the Antarctic weather decided not to cooperate with us. When it’s cold and windy on the surface the seals usually choose to stay under the ice where it is relatively warm and protected. This meant multiple days of searching with no luck. Still, patience is a necessity when working in this environment and we knew eventually it would pay off.
One complication of the stormy weather are the snow drifts left behind by the strong wind. Before we could do anything else we needed to clear working space around camp and clean out the ice holes to give Ned an option to haul out close by. Shoveling and dip-netting ice presents another problem when working in the extreme cold. The physical labor in all of the layers we are wearing causes us to sweat as our bodies heat up. We need to make sure we always have dry layers to change into when we finish to make sure the moisture doesn’t draw heat away from our bodies as we cool off.
Eventually our patience paid off and seals started hauling out onto the ice again! There still hasn’t been any signal from Ned’s GPS or VHF transmitters, but we are ready for volunteer number 2. This time we needed to travel all the way out to Tent Island to find seals on the surface. It was a trek, but well worth it to be back to work.
Unfortunately, our newest seal, dubbed Aronnax, decided he preferred breathing outside instead of in the hut. After we released him into the water, he came up long enough to take a few deep breaths and then took off. It looks like we won’t be getting any metabolic data from him. He still has our VHF and GPS transmitters on him though, so when he surfaces we will at least be able to retrieve our instruments.
While checking out the ice around our camp we found a breathing hole that looked like it had recently been used. Although Ned and Aronnax hadn’t yet tried the escape hole near camp, we thought they might like to come up further out if it were a little bigger. To help them out we drilled a larger hole near the breathing hole and re-drilled ours to give them a little more room. Now all we can do is wait.
It was a challenging week down here on the ice, but that’s the nature of working with such amazing animals in such an incredible environment. We went to bed on Saturday tired but determined to keep moving forward!