27 October, 2003
Is it really spring? It certainly felt like it today. The skies were a brilliant blue, the winds were non-existent, and the temperatures were in the mid-teens. All in all, it was as good as it gets. Gillian and I set off for Little Razorback, Tryggve Point, Turk's Head, and North Base in search of pups to be tagged. Darren, Kelly, and Mark spent the day at Big Razorback weighing seals. It was a successful day for both groups.
Gillian and I found few adults that needed tagging, but ended the day having tagged 18 new pups. Most were at Turk's Head, lounging with their mothers in the sun. Today was my chance to perfect my pup tagging technique. While tagging pups doesn't involve any bagging dance, it does require a fair bit of agility. We work in pairs and split the chores between us. One person is the tagger, while the other distracts the mother by waving a bamboo pole with a red flag on it near her face.
Of course, it isn't always as easy as this makes it sound. Some mothers are extremely protective and will roll almost on top of their pups to keep you from getting near them. They snap menacingly as you approach and cover the pup with a flipper. If you are patient, you will eventually be able to pull the pup away long enough to tag it. Some pups are equally menacing. They rear back and snap their almost-toothless mouths at you or nip at your boots or pants (a good reason to wear loose pants and those big bunny boots). I am always amazed at how strong the pups are and how tenaciously they can pull themselves across the ice with their front flippers. Assuming that the pup and mother cooperate, the tagger steps in to hold the pup and use the pliers to apply the tags to the flippers. What can go wrong at this stage? Sometimes the tags slip in the pliers and need to be re-aligned before they will go through the flippers. Sometimes the pup wriggles so frantically that you need to chase them across the ice or snow, on your knees with pliers in hand until you can hold them long enough to attach the tags. As with anything, practice makes perfect-or at least a bit better. After tagging 12 of the 18 pups yesterday, I feel like I may be getting the hang of it.
The weighing crew had an excellent day. By late afternoon they had weighed a total of 11 adult seals. To put this in perspective, during the entire last season Darren was able to weigh 32 adults. Why the dramatic increase in weighing success? It's all about the sled. Last year he was using a sled that was less than reliable. It was much heavier, set-up was difficult and the actual weighing mechanism did not always work. This year's sled was designed to address all those difficulties and, so far, is doing its job well. What does a seal weigh? The pups have ranged from 24 to 40.5 kg. Adult weights so far have ranged from 368 to 525kgs. Interestingly enough, the heaviest pups have not belonged to the heaviest mothers. It will be interesting to compare their birth weights with their weights when they are weaned in another 6 weeks.
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