Seal Pups: Ferociously Cute and Worth Protecting

A curious fur seal pup inspects a camera in Cape Shirreff, Antarctica.

“It is, of course, important to maintain some academic separation from your study subject as a scientist,” says wildlife biologist and National Geographic grantee, Douglas Krause, although it doesn’t take him long to concede: “But there’s no getting around the fact that Antarctic fur seals are ridiculously cute. It’s exactly the same feeling that you would get walking down the street if an adorable Labrador puppy walked by—you can’t help yourself.”

Krause is in Cape Shirreff, Antarctica, working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) Fisheries’ Antarctic Marine Living Resources Program (AMLR). The NOAA team, led by wildlife biologist Mike Goebel, is dedicated to monitoring the health of fur seals, other Antarctic species, and the Cape Shirreff ecosystem as a whole. The data they collect can be used to help inform management of commercial fishing for sustainable resource exploitation in Antarctica.

One way Krause’s team tracks the health of fur seal pups is by weighing a hundred pups every 15 days throughout the summer. The measurements reveal whether or not the pups have enough food to eat. “If there were fewer krill for their mothers to forage for offshore, we might see a slower growth rate in the pups and we could pass that information on to the management bodies to essentially set regulations,” Krause says.

A curious fur seal pup inspects a camera in Cape Shirreff, Antarctica.

While Krause finds the pups undeniably adorable, he has no illusions about the fact that the pups are wild animals that need to be respected. “Our team has a lot of experience working with these animals in particular, and we have a lot of experience monitoring wild animals and wild animal behavior. We’re tracking every animal on the beach and we’re ready to react appropriately,” says Krause. Sometimes that reaction is as —> Read More