A research team led by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has completed a first-ever global population estimate of Weddell seals in Antarctica, showing that there are significantly fewer seals than previously thought.
A research team led by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has completed a first-ever global population estimate of Weddell seals in Antarctica, showing that there are significantly fewer seals than previously thought. Documenting the seals’ population trends over time will help scientists better understand the effects of climate change and commercial fishing.
The study is published in Science Advances, a peer-reviewed scientific journal by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
The researchers, along with more than 330,000 international volunteer citizen scientists, used hundreds of high-resolution satellite images covering huge areas of Antarctica to complete the count. It is the first direct population estimate ever conducted for the global distribution of any wide-ranging wild animal species on Earth.
Their research estimates about 202,000 sub-adult and adult female Weddell seals in Antarctica. In November, when the satellite images were taken, male seals are mostly in the water under the ice guarding their territories so they are not captured in the images. Previous estimates of female seals were at about 800,000.
Read more at: University of Minnesota
Weddell seals are not only cute—they are a key indicator species in the Southern Ocean for climate change and conservation. All photographs of seals were taken under requisite NMFS and ACA permits provided by relevant National Antarctic Programs for research purposes. In most cases, the images were captured with a telephoto lens to minimize disturbance to the animals. (Photo Credit: Dr. Michelle LaRue, University of Minnesota)