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NSF Polar Program

U.S. Antarctic Program


The National Zoo's Antarctica Expedition is sponsored by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.

All photographs depicting Weddell seals were taken under NMFS Permit No. 763-1485-00 issued under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

 

 

 

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The Second Season Begins
October 26, 2007

Nearly 100 years ago, Ernest Shackleton set out to become the first person to cross Antarctica on foot. Fifty years ago, Edmund Hillary set out to become the first person to reach the South Pole by vehicle.

This year, the Smithsonian Antarctic team returns to Antarctica for Season Two of our expedition with Weddell seals. While the area we are working in has a history of more than 100 years of human exploration, it has a much longer history of animal habitation—as the home of the Weddell seal.

It’s great to be returning for a second season with the Weddell seals at Hutton Cliffs. I’m excited to see some familiar faces, both human and seal.

Whether the seals are inching along or lounging about in their ice living room, I wonder if they’ll remember me. Will they recognize my voice? My scent? Or maybe they’ll remember my red coat, yellow overalls, and white boots? Do they even see in color? Sounds like another area for potential research: seal memory. But that’s for another group at another time.

We have a full schedule with our own experimental work. After one season’s worth of data, and a summer’s worth of analysis, we’re even more excited to come back here and continue our research.

Earlier this month, we came out to the colony to scout the location of our campsite. It was quite eerie to walk through the area and not see a single seal. Last time I was here, ten months ago, there were more than 200 seals making this their home. But as sure as the seasons change and the summer sun never sets, the Weddell seals return to Hutton Cliffs.

To date, we have 40 moms with pups, and even more expectant mothers. Everywhere we look: seals, seals, seals, filling all the cracks and pressure ridge alleys of their (and our) ice home.

While Shackleton’s and Hillary’s exploits to the pole are legendary, and monuments to them abound, we will stay closer to our home here, and make our contribution to the world of seal science.

Rich Joss
McMurdo Station