With their hypotheses developed and their study subjects chosen, Dr. Mellish and the team began the detailed process of planning their fieldwork. The team's field season in Antarctica needed to coincide with the seal's reproductive season, which runs from late October to December. It would be important to arrive by early October to maximize their time before the late spring ice melt made it unsafe to work on the sea ice.
The team chose research sites on Erebus Bay, a pupping and breeding area just a short snowmobile ride from the U.S. base at McMurdo Station. From the Erebus Bay location, they'd select forty healthy seals to participate in the study. It was decided that only healthy animals should be studied and that, of the adults studied, all should be females. This would help prevent outside variables from complicating the data.
Navigate through the pictures below to learn about the tools the researchers used to select healthy animals for their project:
The team was able to work directly with each seal to complete its initial health assessment. However, to collect research data from the healthy animals, the researchers would need to monitor the seals as they went about their daily lives. Since a lot of a seal's time is spent beneath the sea ice - where it's difficult for researchers to observe them directly - this data would have to be collected remotely. To do this, the team outfitted each seal with specially engineered instruments, called data loggers, that would record and store the team's data.
VIDEO: STUDYING SEALS USING DATA LOGGERS
Dr. Markus Horning explains how the research team used data loggers to collect data for the Weddell seal project. (2:19)
WHO IS STUDYING SEALS?