Carpe Diem

Life at a wildlife research station is filled with routine, but rarely are two days ever the same. After a few ‘easy’ days of 8am wake-ups and pancake breakfasts, we are fully operational now with pre-dawn wake-ups. This means we will be seeing the dark side of 6:30am for the next 6 weeks…at least we have an entire cabinet stocked with coffee for morning zombies like myself!

The day then typically starts with a handful of routine catches of females and more deployments of heart-rate tags. Now we are up to 3 females: Norna, Sally and Jolie.

6J with her new fancy monitoring equipment!

Sally with her new fancy monitoring equipment!

After the commotion of the morning captures has died down, Hayley, Sean and I head back out kitted up with our cameras, notebooks and settle into a nice crook in the rock cliffs for some observations until the light dims too much to see (or the batteries die out).

Simultaneously observing 6J and 7J

Simultaneously observing Sally and Jolie

The nights are then finished with the team sitting down together for amazing food, and some nights, the after dinner entertainment continues with games of ‘Cards Against Humanity’; Munchkin; and learning to tie knots in front of a coal fire.

It isn’t hard to guess from previous blogs that the observations are the part of the day I love the best. Settling into a mossy nook out of the wind, the howling seals and crashing waves are the only noise aside from the quiet scratching of our pencils and the occasional whispered conversation. Videos of the females resting will help us determine how their heart-rate variability differs between individuals, but the videos will also help us assess how different behaviours and social situations (such as nursing or aggression) reflect in their physiology. In addition to the data for our own project, in the three days of dedicated observations, we have observed atypical nursing behaviours (where one mum nurses pups which aren’t hers), female ‘commuting’ movements where the mum leaves the pup and travels quite far to get to a pool of water, and male aggression (I can’t not watch the crazy guys!).

A female suckling not only her own pup but additional pups as well. Why females do this maladaptive behaviour is still not fully understood.

A female suckling not only her own pup but additional pups as well. Why females do this maladaptive behaviour is still not fully understood.

Just sitting there generates more and more questions which with infinite time (and money) a person cold build a scientific career on. But alas, we only have six weeks, and the daylight hours therein. So for now, we are focusing on getting a few more females tagged, trying out our ‘in field behavioural tests’, and doing observations. The routine is tough at times, but there is a comfort in going to bed tired and knowing tomorrow will be a new day outside (not in the office) and with more curiosities and questions to be pondered.

AMB

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