St. Paul: Log #7 - Resights and Female Tags

Well, I have seen the last of my shearing days. Today the shearing team I am on is going to finish up at the last of our shearing sights and instead, I am going to learn how to do re-sights. Although the work has been exhausting, I am a little disappointed to miss out on the last day of our team's efforts. I think by day five I was actually able to hold my own and almost keep pace with the more experienced crew members (almost).

The one thing that I never mastered was picking up the pups in a way that prevented them from latching onto my gauntlets. Remember the picture of me in my lovely shearing outfit? Well the leather wrap that went from my wrist to my shoulder is called a gauntlet and it is meant to protect my arm should the pups bite. And they do. A LOT! This is what my arms looked like at the end of five days of shearing...painful! Crew members with more experience usually come away bruise free but that was definitely not the case for me. I'll have to work on that.

My arms after five days of pup shearing. Those little teeth sure do leave a mark!

This is also the last day that our whole crew will be together. Tomorrow, four of our crew members will be heading to St. George Island where they will start the shearing process on the rookeries there. St. George, seen in the figure below, has a smaller number of fur seals so approximately 1,800 pups will be sheared in order to get an estimate of the number of pups born this year.

The location of Northern fur seal rookeries on St. George Island. (Courtesy of NOAA)

Before everyone parts ways, I asked everyone to gather up and take a picture in front of Staff Quarters. Here we are bright and cheery as always before we head out for the day.

The 2010 Northern Fur Seal pup survey team.

And now I head off with Lou and Greg to learn about re-sighting. This is a very important study that has been going on for many years where female pups and adults have tags put on their flippers so that we can track their site fidelity (or likelihood to come back to their place of birth), mothering skills / successful birth rate and age survival.

A brand new mom and hours old pup. Mom has a flipper tag on her left flipper.

It's amazing how much information you can get by knowing simply who the individual is based on when and where the tag was first attached. All of this research is done on St. Paul at a location called Polovina Cliffs. The cliffs allow us to observe the animals with minimal disturbance since we are so high above them. There are also blinds built on the cliffs to offer us protection in tough weather. It also gives us a great view of the activity below.

Polovina Cliffs and the blinds used for re-sighting.

This project has been going on all summer, rain or shine. I had the opportunity to participate for three days and the weather can be daunting but you get caught up in the task at hand and start to forget that your fingers are no longer as mobile as they should be. For 6 to 8 hours the goal is to sight as many flipper tags as you can, note whether or not the female has a pup with her and what the female is or is not doing with that pup. It's kind of like playing a really intense version of Where's Waldo?.

Here, you give it a try. The picture below is a bull male with his harem. In it there is at least one female with a flipper tag. See if you can find any more. For re-sights we have binoculars and a scope but sometimes just using your eyes is the best way to catch a tag. Try it out and see how you do. I'll show you what I found in the next blog. Happy searching!

See how many flipper tags you can find!