Unlike the New England Aquarium fur seals, the fur seals on St. Paul are NOT trained and that needs to be kept foremost in our minds (especially by a certain marine mammal trainer) as we move onto their breeding ground. This is not a situation where you can walk up to Baranov and give him a morning scratch or open up the hallway door and have Ursula keep you company in the food room. These are males holding onto breeding territory for months and females who are very possessive of the pups that they have just given birth to within the past month. With that being said... I am so excited!
We load into the trucks and make our way to the first of the rookeries where we will begin the shearing. Today's destination is Morjovi. It is one of the two rookeries on the northeast point of the island. The map below denotes all of the rookeries on St. Paul and I will be referring to it often as we begin our survey around the island. We have to go to every rookery to count the pups.... no small task.
Rookery sites on St. Paul Island. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
As the trucks make there way up the road I can feel my excitement rising. To see a Northern fur seal in the wild is something I never imagined having the chance to witness. Our caravan of trucks (fifteen people in total) makes its way through all sorts of different topography until we head through a bunch of sand dunes...
Sand dunes on St. Paul
and then as the road levels out... there they are. Northern fur seals everywhere! I couldn't get my camera out fast enough!
Knowing very little about wild fur seal behavior, I was told that the area in the picture is where the sub-adult males (or SAMs) as well as the older males who were not able to hold territory spend the breeding season. This is not considered part of the rookery since no pups are born in this section so it is usually referred to as haul out. There were so many animals there... I could not believe that I was seeing this many fur seals all in once place. Having a small group of fur seals at NEAq seemed like a lot but nothing compares to this!
Male Northern fur seal with harem and pups
My paparazzi moment over, it is time to gear up for the first day of shearing. Check out the picture below to see my fancy garb. Pretty nice huh? :) The weather here can be very unpredictable so we wear multiple layers as well as thick rain gear for an outer layer. Along with that we have a very stylish waist belt that holds a holster and shears that we will use to mark 10% of the pups born this year. We wear gauntlets on our arms to protect us when picking up the pups for shearing. They may only have baby teeth but they are still sharp! And then we wear thick gloves with liners underneath.
Fashionable shearing attire
Here we go!
All images and video taken during this research study were authorized by the Marine Mammal Protection Act Permit # 14327.