Well, calm down! This is scientific blog after all, so we need to set our priorities straight. Science is the reason why we are in McMurdo, under the group name of B-267 (check it out on Twitter and Instagram . I have been trying to tell you how almost cool this project is. What if they actually discover the mechanism that allows seals to shut down circulation to parts of their bodies and the gene that allows that tissue to survive regular hypoxic/anoxic conditions and keep functioning? Pretty cool, eh?
The only way to do that is to go out and get samples from animals. And don’t get me wrong, this is tons of fun, but it is also hard work. The ride on snowmobiles is an adrenaline rush for sure. Getting to the colonies and check out the seals is amazing. Running into random groups of emperor penguins walking on the sea ice certainly makes the day more interesting. But there is the cold. And it is cold. Particularly if what we have to do involve waiting for a seal to give birth, or walk around among the animals when it is too windy. Trust me, you haven’t quite gotten the concept of “wind chill” until you’ve been working in these conditions. Everything here gets so cold, so quickly when the wind is blowing. Since this blog is probably read by impressionable people, I’m not going to describe the samples we were collecting yesterday, but suffice to know that everything we wanted instantly froze when exposed to the wind.
Mother and pup Weddell seal enjoying a nap on a sunny Wednesday afternoon at McMurdo Sound
Weddell seal smooth muscle cells! All organic and locally grown!
Today, however, was a great day. The wind died down and it was sunny, so I even was able to take off two of my six layers of clothes covering my upper body! I know, right?!?! As I mentioned earlier, we are also capturing live animals to collect sample from them, mostly blood samples, which are then brought back to our laboratory where Allyson Hindle and Kaitlin Allen work diligently to get all their samples that need to be frozen frozen, and those that need to be in the incubator, in the incubator. Today, we found a great looking seal by himself, and we decided it was a good day to do a live animal. Working with live animals is always a great experience to live if you are a wildlife biologist, and particularly rewarding if it involves Weddell seals. When we handle seals, we lightly sedate them so that we can work with them in a safely manner, both for our crew and for the animal. Our first priority is the well-being of the seal, so we keep a close eye on them during the entire procedure. The whole thing takes about an hour, when we take not only the samples we need fort he study, but also samples from other collaborators, morphometric data (length and girth), etc. We are constantly monitoring the animal’s breathing and its heart rate, and once the procedure is done, we monitor it until we are sure he/she is doing well and is able to talk back to the colony/water without any problems. While we finished up the procedure, we saw that two animals have had pups, so we were also able to collect two more placentas. This process almost involved Manu Buys having to fight off the polar skuas that were eyeing those placentas like they owned them (not this time, skuas, not under our watch!)
Check out B-267 Instagram and Twitter accounts for more on our project in Antarctica.
And due to popular demand, here is the video link for this post