Weddell seal research on Antarctica engages UAA professor and two master's students

by Kathleen McCoy  |   


Weddell seal research on Antarctica

UAA's Dr. Jennifer Burns, faculty fellow with the Environment and Natural Resources Institute (ENRI) and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is currently conducting research in Antarctica. Burns arrived in Antarctica Oct. 17, 2011. She joined Linnea Pearson, a UAF Ph.D. student in the School of Fisheries and Michelle Shero, a UAA ENRI graduate student researcher and M.S. in Biological Sciences, as well as Ph.D. students Kim Goetz and Luis Huckstadt from the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC). Burns is co-principal investigator on the National Science Foundation-funded project studying Weddell seals; her collaborators are Dr.Daniel Costa (UCSC) and Dr. Eileen Hofmann (Old Dominion University).

Burns and her colleagues are studying Weddell seals' habitat use and winter diving behavior using conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) tags that allow monitoring of the seals' behavior during Antarctic winters, when direct observation is not possible. A number of Weddell seals were outfitted with CTD tags in January and February 2011. Data from these tags was transmitted to the researchers via satellite throughout the Antarctic winter, but data transmission was limited by technical constraints. The researchers' first task during this field season is to collect tags placed earlier, in order to collect full data for each animal.

As they recover the tags, they will also assess the physiological condition of the animals, allowing them to assess diet, behavior influences on growth and health, and the relative impact of exercise on aerobic capacity. Samples collected during recovery are compared to similar samples collected when the tags were deployed. For comparative purposes, additional, non‐tagged animals will also be studied.

Read Dr. Burns' most recent in-depth update from McMurdo Station (PDF).

Check out photos and video of the seal research in Antarctica.

The activities/animals depicted were conducted pursuant to NMFS Permit No 87-1851.

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