Winter Weddell seal surveys continue

The search for winter neighbours

Winter surveys for Weddell seals got underway at the beginning of June this year. Following on from surveys undertaken over the last two winters, this work aims to investigate abundance and distribution of Weddell seals during the winter months in the Vestfold Hills region. Survey results will contribute to environmental assessment activities being undertaken to inform the Comprehensive Environmental Evaluation (CEE) for the Davis Aerodrome project.

Due to the limited daylight at this time of year, the fortnightly surveys mainly focus on the Long Fjord study area, which lies to the north of the station. Long Fjord is one of the main areas in the region where the seals congregate during their breeding season, from September through to November. The winter surveys record seals, as well as signs of their presence including scats and access holes through the ice. As the days get longer, the survey will expand to include a broader expanse of coastal habitat across the Vestfold Hills, from the Sorsdal Glacier in the south, to the Tryne Islands in the north.

A team of four is required each fortnight to undertake the survey so there are plenty of opportunities for volunteers from the station community to join in and support the work. So far the number of seals spotted on the surface of the sea ice have been few, but their numbers are expected to build as we move towards the breeding season. In the meantime there are plenty of rocks that look like seals to keep us on our toes, and the scenery is pretty spectacular.

Helen Achurch
Environmental scientist