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3 November, 2003

Today was a tagging day. Gillian decided that, since there seems to be an almost limitless population of untagged male seals, we would concentrate our efforts on the females and their pups as our top priority. While the males certainly play an important role in maintaining the Weddell Seal population, this study's primary focus is pups, females and survival. With that in mind, Kelly and I set off for Little Razorback, Cape Evans, Inaccessible Island and Tent Island to tag any new pups and their mothers. Gillian and Mark went to North Base and Turk's Head to do the same.

It was another beautiful day-clear, windless, and quite warm (relatively). We worked much of the day without wearing our fashionable and warm red down parkas, putting them on only while snowmobiling. It's definitely easier to manipulate tagging and bagging equipment without a 5 lb jacket to weigh you down! While the actual air temperature was perhaps only -10 or -8C, the reflection of the sun off the surface of the snow made it feel much warmer. Add to this the absence of wind and it was certainly a delightful day to be out in the field.

As of today we have tagged 227 pups. This is still fewer than last year at this time, but close to the number of pups tagged at this time two years ago. While the absolute numbers are different from last year, the overall trend of new pups tagged daily continues to follow the same pattern as previous years. There are many variables to consider when analyzing changes in a wild population such as this one. Weather patterns, food resources, the thickness of the ice pack and its snow cover, and daily weather patterns are just a few of the factors which can vary markedly from year to year.

Most days each group has 15 to 20 new pups to tag. While most of the mothers are already tagged, there are always just a few without tags. These new moms are interesting to bag for tagging. For one thing, they're big. Sometimes it's difficult to straddle them once the bag is over their head, especially if they are trying to back out of the bag or lunging forward. You just have to think fast on your feet and go with them if they decide to bolt. Sometimes this requires just sitting down and going along for the ride. The new mothers can be a bit defensive, making bagging an interesting dance of advance and retreat until the moment is right for both bagger and baggee.

One of the things I've noticed during our most recent interludes with the pups and their mothers is that the pups are definitely growing. Pups that were tagged two weeks ago are noticeably larger than their newborn counterparts. Each day we see a few pups swimming with their mothers. In a world where there is 6 weeks from birth to weaning, you grow up quickly.

Daily Haiku:

Tagging the new pups

Older pups learning to swim

Growing up quickly

This is a view of Big Razorback Island from the north. If you look very closely, you can see our camp.

This is the northern end of Tent Island. The lumps in the snow are actually areas where the ice has been pushed up in a pressure ridge. There is a crack near this ridge that is used by the seals to access the surface.

This mother and pup both have tags in their flippers.

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