Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

Holes in the Ice

In prior posts I have mentioned the seal holes that become a hazard to pedestrians and vehicles on the sea ice.  Folks in field safety are great at marking them with black flags so that we do not fall in!  My mom asked an excellent question.  How do the Weddell seals make the breathing holes in the ice?

I spoke to one of the seal researchers regarding this question since I did not know the full answer.  The seal starts at a thin area or point of weakness in the ice (small hole, crack etc.)   They then open their mouth and use their teeth to ream out the area to make a larger hole.   They have large forward pointing teeth to assist in this process.  Interestingly, tooth wear often leads to death  as the seal is no longer able to hunt or maintain their breathing holes.

Adam and Joel, the current flight surgeon and nurse, were lucky enough to see a weddell seal use its teeth to ream out a ramp in one of the man made ice holes.  The walls were to  high for it to climb out of the water without modification.


The seal was eventually successful and able to exit the hole to bask in the sun!

Don’t forget to post your answer to the prior question on blue ice!

2 responses

  1. Reblogged this on Apassionea and commented:

    May 8, 2014 at 6:49 AM

  2. Very interesting! Our mammalian sisters are so resourceful. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. Sincerely,

    May 8, 2014 at 6:53 AM

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