As this week draws to a close on the Lincolnshire coast, I have come to the realisation that I have reached the half way mark of my field work, an epic milestone filled with sadness, joy and the sense of “what if all my data I have collected is utter rubbish”. I have to admit I found settling into the fieldwork regime extremely hard, with the cold and long days, and the draining feeling of having to do it every day; but after the daunting first week I must admit I love it! I have grown ridiculously attached to my girls on the colony and am not ashamed to admit that I did get a little teary eyed to see the first of my female’s (Dove) pup reach weaning this week and today it was time to say goodbye to her as she will be heading back to the sea within the next day or so. During fieldwork I have also begun to realise that I should stop talking to the public about the seals as if I know the seals on personal terms as I have started to acquire a lot of “that girl is crazy” and “she needs help” looks from members of the public, especially when I start to unknowingly talk to the seals out loud, although it does have the added benefit of people tending to give me a wide berth.
My research here in Lincolnshire has been looking at the impact of disturbances on female breeding behaviour. Disturbance is such a broad term, and my research touches upon environmental, anthropogenic and social stressors which may affect the seals behaviour. The work is similar to that being carried out with the heart rate monitors on the Isle of May; however due to the constraints of the Lincolnshire site which the research base is located, my work relies entirely on focal behavioural observations gathered throughout lactation of known females via in field video footage. It is interesting to witness just how habituated the seals appear to be to the public’s presence and it will be intriguing to see during analysis of the footage whether there are in fact hidden fine scale changes in behaviour which occur during periods of disturbance which go largely unnoticed in the field. Having been given the ID catalogues of previous masters students it has been nice to spot the return of some old favourites such as ropeneck, who has been frequenting the site since the turn of the millennium and even has a plaque in the site which she returns to annually. Typically after installing the plaque this year she has decided to settle a little bit to the right of her usual spot but she is still within 50m of her usual hang out which is quite impressive. On the male front, Amy has informed me that the males are starting to get frisky and that the females are having none of it, so I guess we do share some things with seals, for one a woman can always be relied upon to put a man in his place!
On the home front we have settled into a nice evening routine, full of x factor, big bang theory and Disney, a perfect mix if I do say so myself. On a side note my parents paid us a visit last weekend and unfortunately I quickly found out that they do not see the same enthusiasm for the seals as I do, after about 10 minutes of arriving (this is being generous) my mum declared “that’s it, it’s time to go, I mean once you’ve seen one seal you’ve seen them all”. It’s fair to say I was not impressed, but the warmth of a hotel for the evening and a nice meal made amends for their blasphemous comment. With the predicated arrival this next week of the “arctic blast” I fear my enthusiasm for the field may wain a little as the frostbite and hypothermia set in. I will finish this blog with what seems like an apt quote from Charles Darwin “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”. So if we are indeed able to manage the change in temperature (which is questionable given the fact that I currently think 8oC is cold) expect to have the latest instalment from the Lincolnshire camp in the next few days. Keep those hand warmers and thermals close by!