Weddell seals are one of Antarctica’s icons. Besides being undeniably charismatic, they are the southern-most mammal in the world, can live up to 30 years, and they are perfectly adapted to living in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Research on Weddell seals has been on-going since the late 1960s – research that has shown us how they deal with extreme environmental changes and how important it is to be a good mom. These animals give us a glimpse into what it’s like to being a species at the extreme.
But Weddell seals are important for another reason: they are what we can an “indicator species” because they prey on Antarctic toothfish. Never heard of Antarctic toothfish? I bet you’ve heard of another moniker, Chilean seabass, which a high-end delicacy in many upscale restaurants around the world – and it’s also a critical part of the ecosystem in the Ross Sea. The problem with fishing for a species like Antarctic toothfish is that we know so little about some pretty basic life history information: exactly how long it lives, what age it first reproduces, or even where the fish spawn. Knowing how many fish to take while maintaining balance in the ecosystem is pretty tough to do. But despite having little information about Antarctic toothfish, we can gain insight into the health of the Ross Sea by understanding how Weddell seal populations are doing! By counting seals on satellite imagery, we hope to learn how the Ross Sea is functioning – or not – in the face of this fishery.
So, why count seals on DigitalGlobe’s satellite imagery? The answer is pretty easy: because we couldn’t do this without you! Even though our team has people who are Weddell seal experts and know how to count seals on the images, it would take years – literally – if we wanted to count them all. By surveying the sea ice with us, you will be assisting not only the pursuit of science, but you will help us better protect and conserve the most pristine piece of ocean left: the Ross Sea. Join us, won’t you? Visit tomnod.com for to help us!!