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Weddell Seal Photo-Identification in the Western Antarctic Peninsula
Photo courtesy of Ari Friedlaender

Weddell seals are large and abundant Antarctic seals that have a circumpolar distribution. Photo-ID studies of marine mammals identify individuals using natural markings, nicks, notches and scars that are easily visible on their bodies, fins or flukes. Catalogs of photographs can establish a record of where/ when an individual was observed (and who they were with). In the long term, photo-ID studies can provide information on movements, habitat use, reproductive patterns and population size. Our catalog is built from photos from citizen scientists, our field teams, expedition staff, and data records found on the internet and uses the natural markings on a seal’s ventral side as an identification marker.

We’re interested in whether Weddell seals who live near the open water of the Antarctic Peninsula show different patterns of site fidelity than those that live on the fast ice further south and how those different behaviors might affect their success and distribution. We’re also interested in a small population of these seals in Larsen Harbour, South Georgia, and hope we can begin to look at survival and reproduction in this possibly-declining population.

Beyond the biology, we’re using the Weddell seal dataset as a test case to develop tools for finding, classifying, and aggregating sightings data.  See more information about how to contribute photos here.