St. Paul: Log #5 - Shearing Part 2

Once suited up for pup shearing (see Andrew in his awesome attire below) we go out on the rookery and Rolf (our other fearless leader) shows us how to properly hold the pup during the shearing process.

Andrew in full shearing attire

When we train the volunteers in the marine mammal department, we have a three times rule: The first time you watch, the second time you do the task with a trainer and the third you do it on your own with the trainers there to answer any questions. Well, out here there isn't time for all that. So you watch once, and the second time you go pick up a pup and give it a whirl.

There is definitely a learning curve to this and handling the pups is not as easy as the experienced people make it look! They are wiggling three week old fur balls weighing anywhere from 12 - 15 lbs. They have very sharp teeth and a lot of attitude for newborns but they are still very delicate and sooooooo cute! You hold the pup between your legs so that their flippers are secure and the top of their head is accessible and then you can begin the shearing.

Left: Fur seal pup with sharp teeth! Right: Fur seal pups walking around on the rookery

The goal of the shearing process is to remove a small section of guard hair, the dark fur, from the top of the pups head. This reveals the light brown or peach layer below known as underfur (see picture below) and enables the researchers to accurately count how many pups were born this year. We will go to all fourteen rookeries over the course of the next six days and shear a total of 10,000 pups with the hope that this will equate to 10% of the total pups born this year. This number is based on how many pups were born two years ago when this same shearing and counting process was done... more on that later.

Fur seal pup after the shearing

My group is being led by Carey and is made up of Bob, Dave, Andrew and myself. Bob has been doing the NSF pup survey since the 90's but Dave, Andrew and I are all brand new volunteers this year. With the help of an experienced group of people who will move the males and females away, we sheared pups on Morjovi, Vostochni, Gorbatch and Ardiguen over the course of the first three days. Each rookery is slightly different with a change in topography including rock size, cliffs, beaches and number of animals. This requires a lot of experience so that we navigate the terrain and move in and around the animals in a safe manner, both for us and for them.

Bob, Sarah, Carey, Andrew and Dave—The best shearing team on St. Paul. (I'm part of the team too, of course, but I had to take the picture.)

It requires a ton of energy to shear 150 - 175 pups per person per day not to mention navigating the rocky terrain the seals live on and by the end of each day I am wiped out but still have a smile on my face because this is an amazing place. And thankfully this is just the beginning. :)

A view of the Morjovi rookery


  1. Those are so cute... it would be so hard to resist not hugging them except for the fact that they are wild animals with sharp teeth and you just can't squeeze those, no matter how cute they are.
    Plus they may not like it.

  2. Great updates. I was part of a Northern Fur Seal pup count on St. George in 1992 and I still remember all the bruises on my thighs from those little pups chomping away as we sheared them. If your other leader is Rolf Ream say hello, he is the same person that trained me all those years ago! Good luck to you and hope you stay "switched on" out there!


Have a question for the trainers? Send it to them in the space below. The moderator will share the question.