2020-2021 Science Planning Summaries
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2020-2021 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Collaborative Research: The drivers and role of immigration in the dynamics of the largest population of Weddell seals in Antarctica under changing conditions

Weddell seal pupping colony at Big Razorback Island near McMurdo Station 
Photo by: Jay Rotella
B-009-M Research Location(s): Erebus Bay


Event Number:

Program Manager:
Dr. Rebecca Gast

ASC POC/Implementer:
Jenny Cunningham / Elizabeth Kauffman

Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. Jay Rotella
Montana State University Bozeman
Department of Ecology
Bozeman, Montana


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: Erebus Bay


This is a continuation of a long-term study (1978-present) using an intensive mark-recapture tagging of Weddell seals in Erebus Bay to understand the population dynamics of a long-lived species. Recent results have documented strong annual variation in reproduction, abundance, and population composition. The proposed work will continue population monitoring and add components to evaluate the demographic role of immigrant mothers; evaluate possible drivers of annual variation in overall population dynamics; assess genetic differences between immigrant and locally born mothers; and document patterns of gene flow among seal colonies in the Ross Sea region. These new aspects will add basic and applied approaches to improve understanding of population structure, function, and genetics, as well as provide key information for predicting how the population will respond to environmental change.

Field Season Overview

Three participants will deploy to McMurdo in early October 2020 and will redeploy in mid-December 2020. The team will make day trips from McMurdo to the Sea Ice to find, tag, and weigh seal pups with their mothers. They will work out of two "Apple" shelters placed near Big Razorback Island and Turtle Rock. The team will also make four to five helicopter trips to survey seal colonies and locate pups.

Deploying Team Members

  • Kaitlin Macdonald
  • William McDonald