It was almost an ordinary day in the field for Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar Sarah Kienle — except for the Jeff Corwin show camera crew.
It was almost an ordinary day in the field for Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar Sarah Kienle — except for the Jeff Corwin show camera crew. She was helping the crew with a routine procedure on an adult female northern elephant seal in Año Nuevo State Reserve, using a pulley attached to a sling and a tripod system to lift the seal so the team could weigh her. “This time, the carabiner attached to the sling breaks and smashes me in the forehead,” Kienle says. “I crumple and it’s all captured on film. The seal wasn’t off the ground so she was fine, but I staggered off to the side. It gave me a pretty spectacular bruise. When the episode was aired, the screen goes blank. Then you hear this ‘Ahh!’ and see me crumpled on the ground.”
Thankfully, Kienle sprang back up and leapt into her dissertation at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Along the West Coast, national marine sanctuaries like Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, and Greater Farallones play host to a majority of northern elephant seal breeding colonies. They also provide beaches for traveling seals and sea lions to rest. For her work, Kienle focuses on the feeding habits of northern elephant seals that breed within Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
“Elephant seals are extremes in everything they do: extreme divers and extreme navigators that migrate incredible distances and stay away from land for months at a time. There are also extreme differences between males and females,” Kienle says. While scientists know about elephant seals’ general habitats, they still don’t know some of the specifics, like where they feed or what they eat. Kienle is interested in digging into these specifics. With this baseline information, researchers can better understand how seals will fare in a changing ocean.
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Image via NOAA.