We look at the return of wildlife and summer to the Vestfold Hills

Counting seals

As winter officially comes to an end and the days of endless daylight begin, some routine activities get a much anticipated new spin at Davis station. One of them is the seal survey program.

The focus at the start of winter is on the elephant seal population in the various wallows, mostly within hiking distance of Davis station in the Vestfold Hills.

Midwinter saw many cold trips onto the ice, stretching over days due to limited sunlight, all devoid of life with repeated seal counts of zero.

Now we have reached the pupping season for the Weddell seals that populate the area over summer.

Covering September to November, the pupping season takes place throughout the area around station, and out on the sea ice. Counting the seal pups (and the adults as well, though not quite as enthusiastically) and recording where they are is a job that we were told about by the seasoned expeditioners while we were training in Kingston a year ago. It has been something that many have been looking forward to for much of our time here.

Teams of four head out weekly, led by our resident environmental officer Rachel, by Hägglunds or quad bike to Long Fjord, north of the station. If the weather is bad it can take a gruelling 5–6 hours to complete the survey, with two teams scouring the tidal areas where the seals make their holes in the ice. However, as with many things that are part of life at an Antarctic station, the perks are worth it.

Life in general has returned to the area. Many of the various bird species, including the Adelie and occasional emperor penguins, return to nest or just gather. We must ensure we are careful not to disrupt the new families whilst collecting the important data. Though not overly skittish due to low numbers of natural predators once out of the ocean, we maintain a strict set of approach distances to minimise our impact. Thankfully telescopic camera lenses are in abundant supply. Sometimes however, the wildlife seems to be just as interested in us, as we are in them.

So say goodbye family, friends and social media followers to stunning landscapes and mesmerising auroras for the rest of the 73.5 ANARE’s season, and say hello to the wildlife.

Aaron Munro

Electrician and wildlife enthusiast