The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Antarctic Photo Library contributed these images to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Antarctica's Weddell seals, the planet's southernmost mammals, have an astonishing ability to hunt at tremendous depth and distance for long periods of time, and yet return to the breathing hole from whence they came. Some researchers suspect a biological, magnetic "GPS" system may be guiding the mammals. Read more about the investigation into the seals' uncanny navigation abilities in "Seals May Have 'Natural GPS," and see images of the animals in the gallery below.
Sporty new tech
Shown Above: A Weddell seal sports a video data recorder that scientists use to create a three-dimensional map of its movement in the water as it hunts for prey. Researchers hope to learn more about their hunting behavior during late-winter darkness and how the seals find their breathing holes in the ice. Read more about that research in The Antarctic Sun. (Credit: Randall Davis, National Science Foundation.)
A mother Weddell seal pokes her head out of a hole to communicate with her young pup. (Credit: Peter Rejeck, National Science Foundation.)
Getting the dirt
Scientists take measurements of a Weddell seal female for a study investigating the timing of a seal's critical life-history events, such as breeding and molting, and how disruptions in that natural cycle by changes in climate and environment might affect the world's southernmost mammal. Research conducted under Marine Mammal Protection Act #17411. (Credit: Peter Rejeck, National Science Foundation.)
A mother Weddell seal rests her head on her young pup. Females produce only one pup per season, but have been known to have upwards of 20 pups during their reproductive lifespan. (Credit: Peter Rejeck, National Science Foundation.)
A mother Weddell seal and her pup near Ross Island, Antarctica. Robert Garrott and Jay Rotella, both of Montana State University, Bozeman, study the seals in relation to their environment. To learn more about their research, visit http://weddellsealscience.com. (Credit: Peter Rejeck, National Science Foundation.)
Felicia, a 10-year-old Weddell seal, shows off the various devices that had been recording her activities. She was soon back in the water with the equipment removed. (Credit: Steve Martaindale, National Science Foundation.)
On the ice
Researchers from a seal-study team led by Montana State University's Robert Garrott. The image was taken near Ross Island, Antarctica. Garrott studies the Weddell seal population and its relationship to climate change. The snowmobiles are on the frozen ocean fast-ice, where seal colonies thrive. (Credit: Peter Refeck, National Science Foundation.)
A Weddell Seal in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. (Credit: Steve Rupp, National Science Foundation.)
Taking a moment
Weddell seals lie next to a crack in the annual sea ice near Ross Island, Antarctica. (Credit: Kelly Speelman, National Science Foundation.)
U.S. Antarctic Program participant Curtis Harry grins for the camera as he stands a safe distance away from two Weddell Seals. The Antarctic Treaty forbids directly touching wild animals, unless you have a permit allowing you to do so for scientific reasons. The rule of thumb is, "if the animal reacts to your presence, you are too close." (Credit: Curtis Harry, National Science Foundation.)
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