Cy­cle of life re­news for seals

The Press - - News - WILL HARVIE

Hav­ing two seals pups born im­me­di­ately in front of Scott Base in Antarc­tica is ‘‘re­ally un­usual’’, a pro­fes­sor of ma­rine bi­ol­ogy says.

The two wed­dell seal pups were spot­ted just a few hun­dred me­tres from Scott Base build­ings, a busy road and a he­li­copter land­ing pad.

Seal mothers were known to aban­don pups if hu­mans dis­turbed them too much, said Dr Regina Eis­ert, of Gateway Antarc­tica at the Univer­sity of Canterbury.

She guessed the mother weighed about 450 kilo­grams and looked to be in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion.

‘‘If all goes to plan, she will nurse her pup for about 42 days and dur­ing this time will lose close to 200kg,’’ she said.

‘‘At the same time, the pup will quadru­ple its birth weight of about 25kg to 100kg and some­times as much as 140kg.

‘‘They can grow so fast be­cause wed­dell seal milk is ex­cep­tion­ally high in en­ergy.’’

New­born wed­dell seals were vul­ner­a­ble to hy­pother­mia be­cause they had not built up fat re­serves, she said.

Mothers typ­i­cally stayed with their pups con­stantly for the first week or so.

When the pups were seven to 10 days old, the mother dived into the near­est hole in the ice and called her pup from the wa­ter.

‘‘Pups re­ally do not like wa­ter at that age and it takes them a long time to take the plunge,’’ Eis­ert said.

‘‘A lot of the time, the pups fall in rather than choose to en­ter the wa­ter. They cer­tainly bawl a lot when they go in,’’ she said.

The wa­ter is mi­nus 1.9 de­grees Cel­sius.

Eis­ert needed help with her re­search.

She and col­leagues had up­loaded about 10,000 pho­tos taken ev­ery 10 min­utes in late 2014 at the seal colony at Tur­tle Rock, about 12 kilo­me­tres north of Scott Base.

They needed help count­ing the seals in the pho­tos to get an ac­cu­rate es­ti­mate of their num­bers, habits and daily rhythms.

‘‘Then can we tell if they are be­ing ad­versely af­fected by hu­man fish­ing for tooth­fish, or by the ice melt­ing away be­neath them due to cli­mate change,’’ she said.

Visit zooni­verse.org and search for wed­dell seal count to help.

Press jour­nal­ists Will Harvie and Iain McGre­gor spent 10 days in Antarc­tica part of Antarc­tica New Zealand’s com­mu­nity en­gage­ment pro­gramme, which al­lows New Zealand me­dia, artists and other non-sci­en­tists to visit Scott Base to learn and re­port on the work of sci­en­tists on the ice.

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