26 October, 2003
Today I increased my terrestrial Antarctic animal species list by 100%. Since I've only seen Weddell Seals so far, that means I saw one new animal. As we were weighing seals I glanced up in time to see a Skua fly across the horizon. Seeing the first Skua of the austral spring is sort of like seeing the first robin in the springtime up north. They are a gull-like bird of the southern hemisphere and spend much of their year over the ocean. Most Skuas live on the coast of Antarctica or on nearby islands. Skuas are related to gulls and have strong, hooked beaks. They are scavengers and are drawn in now to feast on the seal placentas remaining after the pups are born. There is a Skua rookery (an area where they nest) near McMurdo, on the cliffs by New Zealand's Scott Base.
Another sign that it is truly spring here is that the sun is no longer setting. It certainly makes our work day easier when we don't have to worry about getting back to camp before sunset. We're finding that the seals are more active later in the day, so it is much more effective to start our rounds of the seal colonies in mid-morning and work until 6 pm.
While the morning started out clear and quite windy, it settled down by late morning and made for a great afternoon for refining our weighing skills. We were able to photograph and weigh 6 pups and 2 mothers. One of the mothers tipped the scales at 525 kg-now that is a big seal.
While we were attempting to coax one of the mothers onto the scale, we heard a high-pitched seal squeal nearby and looked over to see a brand-new baby seal next to its mother. The pup was pretty soggy-looking for the first few minutes, but its fur coat was dry and fluffy soon after. Each day there are new pups-today Mark and Gillian went to Tent and Inaccessible Islands and tagged 18 new pups. I guess it really is spring!
Skuas flying by
New seal pups every day
Is it really spring?
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