National Geographic : 1997 Mar
UNWIELDY ROUNDUP Bearded seal pups are the most charming animals I have ever worked with. But capturing them for study can be a challenge. First we've got to find them. Because bearded seals are not gregarious, we must patrol an area of about 50 square miles to locate individuals or pairs. Pups are born on the ice often on pieces not much longer than the mother's body. And unlike most other seals, which spend their nursing periods on solid land or ice, bearded seals soon take to the sea. We've re corded pups less than a week old diving for more than five min utes to 250 feet. This skill may have evolved as a means to es cape polar bears. For us it means a bit of fancy boat work. We maneuver our boat along side a swimming pup. As it sur faces to breathe, we scoop it into our dip net (bottom left). In these endeavors lan drives, I crouch in the middle to help land the seal, and Christian mans the net, calling out, "Right! Right! No, the other right!" (The only call we really pay attention to is "Man overboard," which is ut tered with some regularity.) Once a pup is caught, we go to the nearest ice floe to begin our work. If there's no floe in sight, we tie up to the boat carrying graduate students to weigh the pup (be low)- no A RESEARCH easy task, PROJECT as bearded SUPPORTED SUPPORTED seals weigh IN PART BY YOUR about 80 BY YOUR SOCIETY pounds at birth and can top 250 pounds in just a few weeks. It's hard to think of these seals as babies-that is, until they suckle on a finger for comfort, as one pup did to Christian (upper left). While most other seal spe cies struggle during handling, bearded seal pups are placid, drawing affectionate coos even from my field-hardened Viking stock companions.