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

Project Title

Foraging ecology and physiology of the leopard seal

Leopard seal with a satellite tracking device on her head. This tag allows researchers to monitor her position and diving behavior. 
Photo by: Dan Costa
B-232-L Research Location(s): Cape Shirreff


Event Number:

Program Manager:
Dr. Peter Milne

ASC POC/Implementer:
Samina Ouda / Cara Ferrier

Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. Daniel Paul Costa
University of California Santa Cruz
Dept of Ecology & Evolutionary Bio
Santa Cruz, California

Project Web Site:


Supporting Stations: ARSV Laurence M. Gould
Research Locations: Cape Shirreff


This project will examine the physiology and behavior of leopard seals in an effort to determine their ability to respond to potential changes in their habitat. Using satellite tracking devices, the research team will examine the movement and diving behavior of leopard seals and couple this information with measurements of their physiological capacity. The project will determine whether leopard seals—who feed on a diverse range of prey—are built differently than their deep-diving relatives, Weddell seals and elephant seals, which feed on fish and squid.

Field Season Overview

A team of five will travel on the ARSV Laurence M. Gould to the Cape Shirreff field camp, where they will reside for about five weeks. The team will dart up to 11 Leopard seals per season on land using a Tele-inject air gun darting system. The darts will contain an anesthetic. Once the anesthetic has taken effect and the seal is secured by a net, additional anesthesia will be administered by isoflurane gas. This will allow the team to collect physiological and foraging samples, and allow them to attach instruments to the seals using quick-setting marine epoxy. While sedated, the animals will also be flipper tagged, sexed, measured and their body conditions estimated using morphometrics. Analysis of tissue and blood samples will be conducted later at the scientist’s home institutions. Tag recovery will be attempted every season.

Deploying Team Members

  • Renato Chavez
  • Daniel Costa (PI)
  • Michael Goebel
  • Shane Kanatous
  • Stephen Trumble