Baylor Biology Professor Travels to Antarctica on National Science Foundation-Funded Research Project

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    Leopard seal in the wild (courtesy photo)
  • Leopard Seal 3
    University of California, Santa Cruz professor Dr. Dan Costa (left) and a team of researchers collect tissue samples from a leopard seal. (courtesy photo)
  • Leopard Seal 1
    Cape Shirreff Field Station on Livingston Island, Antarctica (courtesy photo)
April 5, 2018

Media Contact: Tonya B. Hudson, 254-710-4656
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Three-year project will focus on understanding how leopard seals cope with Antarctic environment

WACO, Texas (April 5, 2018) – Beginning April 9, Stephen J. Trumble, Ph.D., associate professor of biology in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences, will brave the Antarctic winter for two months to study leopard seals.

As part of the National Science Foundation-funded project, Trumble and other experienced Antarctica researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Colorado State University will work to gain an understanding of the foraging ecology and physiology of the leopard seal, an Antarctic apex, or top predator.

“This three-year project will collect data on foraging and dive behavior, diet, habitat use and fuel use in leopard seals,” Trumble said. “Ultimately, the goal is to relate foraging behavior with physiological performance and determine physiological limits. The estimated physiological limits combined with habitat modeling will help us understand how leopard seals may respond and cope with a changing Antarctic environment.”

For the $800,000 project, Trumble and his fellow researchers will conduct their research at the remote Cape Shirreff Field Station on Livingston Island, relying on 55-years of combined experience and lights to navigate the terrain in the dark while searching for leopard seals.

The team will sedate the aggressive animals with darts, monitor their vital signs, affix satellite tags and collect tissue samples— all before releasing the animals safely back into the wild. Trumble and his colleagues will return to Antarctica each spring for the next three years to collect data and track leopard seals.

“Leopard seals are an enigma. There is not a substantial amount information on the animals,” Trumble said. “No one has done this type of research on leopard seals before, and this project represents a great opportunity to understand the species better.”

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