Warning: This post might contain bloody pictures (Ewww! Gross!)

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Weddell seals at Hutton Cliffs, the largest colony in McMurdo Sound

Biologist are weird creatures. Most people like to stay the heck away from blood, which is more than normal, acceptable and sane. Biologists, however, happen to have to get in bloody messes as part of their job so that science can happen.

Let’s recap though. Last time we heard about the adventures of B-267 was last year, and we had successfully finished our field season collecting samples from placentas, dead animals and live animals to understand how is it that Weddell seals can control the blood flow to the different tissues, and how their tissues can undergo and survive the lack of oxygen. The novelty, though, is that for this project we are focusing on the genomic and molecular mechanisms that operate.

Now, it’s a new year, a new season down on the ice and we are back, and desperate to get our samples on as much fresh tissues as possible. Ergo, we need to get dirty and deal with bloody messes. It is nature, after all. This season, we’ve been extremely lucky and have already witnessed two seals giving birth to their pups (can I get an “Awwwww!”?). One of them was a younger female, probably 4 years old, and her labor was a bit prolonged, but she happily delivered a new Weddell seal pup (tail first!) that right away was looking for the precious bonding experience with mom and perhaps a drink or two of delicious fatty milk.

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This is what a few second old pup looks like. Mom and pup are doing great!

The second birth was a much larger female, and this time it only took her a couple of minutes to deliver her pup. This time, though, the pup was born head first, but just like the other birth we witnessed, the pup immediately called, mom called back, and the magic of paternal instinct kicked in.

Of course, after pup comes the afterbirth, and we want that. So, we sneaked as quietly and slowly as possible, and without interfering with the new mom and her pup, we managed to get the freshest ever placentas for our study. And the rest, as they say, is history…

Happily, we already have cells growing at our lab in the Crary and Engineering Research Center, and they look happy and comfortable in their 37 deg Celsius incubator (I know, I’m losing it… Cells looking happy? Where is my scientific objectivity? Long lost, let me tell you…).

Keep checking this blog for more posts about the new season working on the ice with Weddell seals. Champions at diving and cuteness.
And just to make it up for the revealing image, enjoy this video of a sleeping pup (https://youtu.be/4dZGYnpPwIE):

 

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