Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Today was our first day in the field working with the fur seals. We woke up early this morning and headed out to one of the beaches with lots of fur seals. It was an amazing to see the beach this morning. There were several hundred fur seals on the beach – not to mention numerous penguins, kelp gulls, and pelicans. The fur seals tend to hang out at the edge of the water in the late morning, so they can thermo-regulate and cool off in the water. The adult males (also called bulls) are massive and protect a territory with several females and there pups. The timing of our trip was planned to coincide with when the females have young pups, since this is the only safe time you can catch an adult female.

There was a lot of anticipation amongst the team as we headed to the beach today. Everyone was excited, but also a little anxious about how things would go. Catching and restraining large marine mammals is part skill and part bravery. It is certainly possible to anesthetize adult pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) and this is something that we are accustomed to doing in captivity. However, anesthetizing these animals in the field is more challenging, carries a higher risk to the animal, and is much slower. Instead, for this trip we are using a time-tested method of physical restraint. Very young fur seal pups (1 week old) may be approached and restrained by experienced handlers. Moving the pup entices the mother (weighing about 200 pounds!) to follow you (this is where the “brave” part kicks in). Once the female moves away from the protective bull and the colony, she can be safely approached with a net. Once netted, the adult female is positioned on a flat board, where a couple “seatbelts” are strapped across her and 1-2 people help hold onto her in the net. Patricia describes it as “catching giant butterflies”… they are a little more feisty than butterflies, but after seeing the biologist team in action this morning the description is not far off!

Once the animals are restrained, Gwen and I are able to start collecting data and samples. As part of this health assessment, every animal (adults and pups) receives a full physical examination looking for any signs of injury or illness. We record body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and body weight. Every animal receives an identification tag and a microchip (just like what your pet dog or cat might have). We collect blood samples and swabs to study if the animals have been exposed to different diseases. We also collect samples of blood, blubber, and fur to measure exposure to various environmental contaminants and toxicants.

Today we were able to collect samples from 4 adults and 4 pups. Not bad for our first day in the field. We worked on the beach until about 5PM and then grabbed a quick dinner before starting to process the samples. Getting the samples is only half the process and the lab work and preparing the samples for storage takes almost as long. It’s now about 10PM and we are just finishing up for the day. The first day in the field is always the roughest, as it takes a little while for everyone to figure out what works best. I’m sure that tomorrow things will go a little faster. We’ll explain more about how everything is going tomorrow. Right now we are both exhausted and heading off to get some sleep!!

Mike Adkesson, DVM, DACZM
Veterinarian – Chicago Zoological Society