This week at Davis: 6 September 2019

It's time for some seal science

Part Time Scientists

Although I count myself very very fortunate to have this job (chef), some of the best days are the ones where I don't actually have to do it. During the summer months this place is a melting pot of sciencey people. In the winter however, we only have one scientist on station, and only because he missed the last ship out. This gives us Trades types the opportunity to update data and record new measurements.

Myself (Nick), Dan-the-plumber, Meg-the-Doc and Dev-the-Sparky made up ‘Seal Team 3’, a motley band of expeditioners tasked with driving around 80 km of sea ice looking for new arrivals in the form of seals who start to appear this time of year to give birth and look cute. We then take a GPS coordinate, allowing the boffins back home to do a layered comparison over the years of seal populations, birthrates and what type of paperbacks they read while sunbathing.

The seals that we may or may not see this year are Weddell, Crabeater (they eat krill, go figure) Leopard (they eat people, no not really) and Southern Elephant (they eat dung, going by their breath). Particularly though we expect to encounter Weddells, the most southerly occurring mammal on earth. They can reach 3.5 metres in length and weigh up to 600kg. They can dive for 80 minutes at a time to a depth of 600 metres and feed on fish, prawns, penguins and other seals.

Our efforts were concentrated around the intriguingly named Islands in Long Fjord, to the north of the Station. Partizan, Topografov, Soldat and Zvuchnyy sound like the Russian back four at the 1966 World Cup and are equally determined to trip you up and stand on your fingers. Dan and I took the quad bikes while Meg and Dev glamped along in the Hägg. We scoured every nook and cranny but to no avail. Not a single seal in sight. We even denied ourselves lunch (pretty easy really, the food here is awful) and went back over some areas we had already searched, although this was due more to poor map reading skills and the like than any diligence. Even the two seals spotted by the last team had left, no doubt in disgust at the outfits Luke-the-Deiso likes to wear around station.

Regretfully we admitted defeat and headed back to Station, where we were greeted by a chorus of boos from some and a total lack of interest by the rest. Just another beautiful day in Antarctica.

By Nick Baker (Chef)

Quad bikes in Antarctica on sea ice
Shocker day for it.
(Photo: Meg McK)
Antarctic expeditioner on quad bike
Perfect conditions for seal spotting...if there were any.
(Photo: Meg McK)
Quad bikes on sea ice in Long Fjord
Plenty of ground to cover out here
(Photo: Neil B)
Hagg and quad bikes on sea ice
Half-time break...without the oranges.
(Photo: Meg McK)
Weddell seal at haul out hole
No one likes being the first to arrive at the party. Meet…
(Photo: Nick B)
Weddell seal
Here's one we prepared earlier....looking cute, as they're prone to do.
(Photo: Nick B)