Ok, that is a lie. Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddelli) are not only the southernmost breeding mammal in the world, champion divers, excellent animals models to study and much, much more, but they are also extremely cute (and that is the professional opinion of the scientific community).
Among the many, many privileges of working with these animals during their breeding season, is the fact that sometimes you run into amazing displays of beauty, such as when it is just you watching a recently born pup suckling milk from his/her sleepy mother, and you don’t hear anything else but the amazing vocalizations of males swimming and defending their territories underwater (you can hear them from above 2 m thick sea ice), the sound of other hauled out seals breathing, and pups and moms calling each other.
Checking the tiny little cells that are successfully growing
Yesterday was one of those days. No wind, the temperature was a balmy -10 deg C, so we could collect samples (found two fresh placentas within 45 minutes).
The work in the lab is being successful, and the team from Massachusetts General Hospital has been able to grow cells from the placenta arteries they have been collected, which is great news for the project. I got to see the little cells growing in their medium yesterday, and even I could tell things were going well (and I haven’t seen things through a microscope in decades!).
Dissecting the placenta arteries in an sterile environment
So, things are shaping up great on the ice, and if the weather hold, we will be able to collect samples from live animals later today (stay tuned!).
And, yes. There is a video of the pup suckling for your enjoyment…!