2013-2014 Science Planning Summaries
U.S. Antarctic Program - Science Support Section United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo
The cost of a new fur coat: Interactions between molt and reproduction in Weddell seals

Program Manager:
Dr. Chris Fritsen

Event Number: B-292-M

ASC POC/Implementer:
Sune Tamm / Cara Sucher

Dr. Jennifer Burns (Principal Investigator)
https://www.facebook.com/weddellsealbiologyExternal Non U.S. Government Site

University of Alaska Anchorage
Anchorage, Alaska

Supporting Stations:  McMurdo Station
Research Locations:  Big Razorback Island, Hutton Cliffs, McMurdo Sound, Ross Ice Shelf, Scott Base

Project Description:
Researchers will examine mechanisms linking Weddell seal reproduction and molt timing and how late-summer condition impacts next season's reproductive success. They will assess physiological condition at the end of the reproductive period, monitor behavioral activities between reproduction and molt, and assess physiological condition and pregnancy status during the molt. By targeting known-age females with various prior reproductive timing, these measurements can be used to assess whether molt timing is more responsive to hormonal or energy indices. Researchers will characterize the molting process histologically and physiologically and gather new and important data on factors influencing the onset of active gestation and/or miscarriage rates. The data will provide baseline values for models predicting the impacts of changing climate and food availability during the austral summer on molt timing and future reproductive success. Through collaboration with B-009-M (Rotella), molt status will be linked to reproductive performance of individuals over multiple breeding seasons. The data will be used to generate models focusing on whether variation in the timing of an intermediate critical life history event (i.e. reproduction, molt, onset of foraging activities) might influence the trade-off between current and future reproductive success.

Field Season Overview:
There are two parts to this project's field efforts: assessment of animal condition at the end of lactation, and again during the molt. Therefore they plan to deploy twice during summer 2013-2014.

During the first deployment, field team members will be based out of McMurdo Station and will take daily trips onto the sea ice by snow-machine, with gear towed in sleds, to locate specific adult female Weddell seals, measure their health and condition, and equip them with tags that will monitor diving patterns and aid in relocation. Researchers hope to handle 15-24 adult females. The work will be focused around the breeding colonies within Erebus Bay. During the second deployment, they will return to McMurdo in order to relocate animals handled earlier, and to assess their reproductive condition and health status.

Deploying Team Members:

  • Roxanne Beltran
  • Rachel Berngartt
  • Jennifer Burns (PI)
  • Amy Kirkham
  • Linnea Pearson
  • Julie Richmond
  • Patrick Robinson
  • Michelle Shero

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Curator: Esther L. Hill PhD, Antarctic Support Contract   |   NSF Official: Alexandra Isern, Office of Polar Programs