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Ever wonder how seals find breathing holes under a thick blanket of snow and ice?

Ever wonder how seals find breathing holes under a thick blanket of snow and ice?

Seal 05"You want me to do what?" One of the seals with equipment attached about to enter the water inside a hut at one of the camps. Credit: Lee Fuiman.Dr. Lee Fuiman and assistant Erin Frolli and a team of researchers from four universities are currently hunkered down in a hut on a frigid ice plain at the bottom of the world. He and fellow biologists are trying to understand how Weddell seals navigate under Antarctic ice. Weddell seals routinely dive for 20 minutes at a time and travel up to a mile from where they started before returning to their breathing hole in the ice covered waters of Antarctica. The biologists are using state-of-art video cameras and equipment to test their idea that the seals navigate underwater using Earth’s magnetic field, much as homing pigeons do. No marine mammals are known to be able to detect magnetic fields, so their research has the potential for new and important discoveries.

The multi-year project is being conducted at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and is funded by the National Science Foundation. The project is a collaboration with colleagues at Texas A&M University – Galveston, University of California – Santa Cruz, and the University of Auckland.

This is Dr. Fuiman’s 9th year of conducting research in Antarctic. He and fellow researchers still have another month before they fly back to the states.

A video story about the project courtesy of the National Science Foundation is available at http://www.livescience.com/49221-researchers-investigate-to-see-if-seals-have-magnetic-gps.html

Follow us on Facebook to track the journey through a series of photographs.

(Prior to this research, these biologists performed many tests to ensure that the equipment adds very little drag to the seals and make sure that the equipment does not adversely affect a seal's ability to eat or behave.)




Seal 01The main camp on the frozen surface of McMurdo Sound. The yellow building is where Lee and his colleagues work with seals. The orange building is where the researchers eat. Credit: Lee Fuiman.


Seal 03The main building contains a hole in the floor which is over a hole in the ice. That's where the seal breathes during the scientists' work. When they want to move the seal to another location, they open an escape hole (shown here) and wait for the seal to haul out onto the ice. Credit: Lee Fuiman.


Seal 02This season, the weather conditions have been generally poor. Here is the view from their housing at McMurdo Station at two different times. Credit: Lee Fuiman.

Location (Map)

McMurdo, Antarctica
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