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4 November, 2003

We will be doing our first population census on Friday. In preparation for this census, Gillian, Kelly, and Brent went on a helicopter flight over the study area this afternoon to see whether there were any groups of seals outside the established colonies that we would need to check. It was a beautiful day for flying, with clear skies and calm winds once again. Rumor has it that these stellar weather conditions are due to change in the near future. I suppose that 12 days of mostly clear and relatively windless weather is all one can ask for here.

Mark and I returned to Turks Head to finish the tagging he and Gillian had begun yesterday. On Monday they had tagged 21 new pups and adults, but ran out of time and energy before finishing the entire colony. There were 14 new pups there today to tag. This is one of the larger colonies within our study area.

As the number of live seal pups has increased, so has the number of dead seal pups. Some appear to have been abandoned by their mothers-we often see these pups alone within the colony for a few days before they die of starvation. Others have died from environmental causes-we saw one pup frozen into a meltwater pool atop the ice. We have also seen pups that, apparently, died at birth and were still encased in their placentas. Although these seals live in a world without terrestrial predators, it is obvious that other factors can affect pup mortality.

One animal, the Skua, is never far from these seal colonies during the pupping season. These birds are the scavengers of coastal Antarctica, and must work quickly to feed on the dead pups since everything freezes within hours. Once the carcasses are frozen, they may last for years, disappearing only when the ice around them melts and they are released into the ocean below.

Daily Haiku:

Clear skies once again

Weather changes predicted

Low pressure coming

Taking off for an aerial survey of the study area.

The birds in this photograph are Skuas.

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