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The United States Congress in 1972 passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This law was in large part a response to issues about commercial whaling and to the killing of harp seals in the North Atlantic. The new law put conservation measures in place for many of the practices that were detrimental to some marine mammal species. For example, at that time many porpoise were being killed as fisherman pursued tuna using purse seines, particularly in the Eastern portions of the Pacific. However, this new law also placed new demands upon scientists who were carrying out research on marine mammal species. One of the first of these demands was that all researchers working under programs that were within the jurisdiction of the U. S. were required to obtain a federal permit examining the anticipated research procedures, and evaluating potential population damages that might be associated with these research efforts.

Even though the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed in 1972, it took some time for this new permit process to be fully enacted, but finally in January, 1974permit number 1 under the marine mammal protection act the first research permit was issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and it was for research on McMurdo Weddell seals. Thus, the McMurdo Weddell program had the honor of being the first one to receive a permit, and thus has Permit No. 1 under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. It was a bit different from the research permits being issued today in that it was three pages long and was typed on a typewriter. Today, such permits are many pages and much more complicated. An image of the first permit is shown below.

During these early days, scuba gear was being used to observe Weddells under the sea ice. Gerald Kooyman, from Scripps Institution of Oceanography was studying Weddell seal diving physiology and was using scuba techniques for his work. However, the amount of time that divers could stay submerged was limited because divers were using wetsuits and the extremely cold water made it impossible to remain in the water very long. With the data being obtained on activity patterns, questions began to arise about what was going on under the ice. Thus it became obvious that longer term observations of behavior under the TV monitor and electronic equipment set up inside research hut, 1969.ice would be needed if further understanding of breeding behavior and mother-pup interactions were to be accomplished. Given the time limitations on observations imposed by scuba gear, an underwater TV camera with video recorder was proposed to observe what was happening under the ice. This equipment was transported to Antarctica, and moved to the pupping colony at Hutton Cliffs during the 1969 field season. The picture above shows the inside of the “fish house” with the TV set up as well as the recorders used to monitor activity patterns.

With the help of very good electrical engineers, recordings of mother pup behavior, male territorial behavior, and underwater breeding were obtained. The following picture shows the early TV set up at the access hole through the sea ice. While the long steel pipe, hydraulic tilt unit, tripod and standard TV rotortripod support of underwater cameras were far from fancy, it all worked amazingly well. In the picture on the right the large object is a movie camera that was using the TV camera as a lens to decide when to roll film. Using the TV as the eye of the camera worked well and some very good under-the-ice movies of seal behavior was obtained. The only problem that was soon discovered was that the movie camera’s time capacity for taking one roll of film was about 3 minutes, and thus every time a roll of film was used, it was necessary to pull the whole camera arrangement and put in a new roll of film, an exercise that soon became tiring depending on weather and time of day.

supporting tripod on the iceA standard TV rotor, as was often used on antennas on the tops of houses, and shown below at the top of the tripod, was controlled in the fish house, and it was possible to rotate everything 360 degrees. As work with the TV system moved into the second field season, it became evident that to investigate such areas as homing tendencies, territorial behavior, and territorial longevity, observations on the same individuals for more than one reproductive season were required. Thus, interest in longer term observations began to develop. More...

Historical images courtesy Don Siniff's Weddell project archive.
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Weddell seal images and recordings obtained under NMFS Permits 1032-1917 and 17236. Website copyright © 2015 WeddellSealScience.com. All rights reserved.