St. Paul: Log #8 Old Tags, New Tags, and Tagging Along

New England Aquarium Senior Marine Mammal Trainer Patty is participating in the 2010 Northern Fur Seal Pup Count in St. Paul, Alaska. You can scroll through all of her posts from the field here.

A northern fur seal pup snoozing on the rookery.

Remember the challenge at the end of St. Paul: Log #7? Well, how many tags did you find? If you look closely, (and I realize it is a tiny picture on a computer screen) there are three. Here is the picture again with all of the tags circled. Now you can understand why we used binoculars and a scope! The animals are moving quite frequently and a tag can be visible one moment and gone the next so you really need to pay attention.

Females with tags circled in purple.

After doing three days of re-sights, I was able to tag along (no pun intended) :) for the tagging of adult females at a site called Zap Reef. As one of the many research studies being done while we are out here on St. Paul, female fur seals on various rookeries are equipped with GPS tags which give scientists a lot of important information regarding where and for how long northern fur seals leave the rookeries to search for food in the ocean. Only females that have given birth to a pup this year will be selected to wear these tags. This ensures that they will be leaving and returning to the island frequently over the next few months as they feed their pups to get them big enough to leave the island on their own. These new moms will provide excellent information about how far out to sea they feed, how far down they dive to find food, and how many days they need to stay at sea to find enough food to return back to the rookery. The picture below shows what one of the GPS tags looks like.

A female northern fur seal with a GPS tag.

The researchers return to the rookeries at the end of breeding season, when the mothers and pups are getting ready to leave the island and migrate. They will remove the tags from the females and use all of the information gathered to help determine the relationship between a marine mammal who spends months on an island but must also travel miles at sea to find food all while raising a pup. Not an easy lifestyle I am sure.

There is still plenty more experiences that I can't wait to share with you so stay tuned!