Ethics of the research
Field activities and research methods of this project are in accordance with:
- the SCAR code of conduct for use of animals for scientific purposes in Antarctica (Laws,R.M. 1993. Antarctic seals. Research methods and techniques. Cambridge Un. Press, London. Appendix 16.7)
- the Animal Behaviour Guidelines for the use of animals in research (Anim. Behav. 41: 183-186.).
The only field activity that requires extensive handling of animals is weighing of pups and weanlings. Handling time is very short in both cases, taking a mean of 2' 30" for pups, 5' 30" for weanlings with three replicates of weight, 3' 30" for weanlings with one replicate. In a large sample of pups weighing never produced any case of long separations from the mother, or abandonment. Pups usually resume their previous activity (resting or suckling) after being released. Weanlings do the same, and in many cases they carry on resting at short distance from the weighing trypod.
We are now implementing a research sub-project to evaluate the effects of handling stress, in particular in relation to: 1) variations in plasma levels of hormones related to stress, and, 2) increased susceptibility to infections and parasites. Marking and skin sampling are the only field activities that produce a visible pain, but this effect seems modest and short term (but see Bateson,P. 1991. Assessment of pain in animals. Anim. Behav. 42: 827-839.). The effect of tags on health or survival of tagged animals is null (Testa,J.W. & Rothery,P. 1992. Effectiveness of various cattle ear tags as markers for Weddel seals. Mar. Mammal Sci. 8(4): 344-353; Erickson,A.W. & Bester,M.N. & Laws,R.M. 1993. Marking techniques. In: Laws,R.M.. Antartic seals. Research methods and techniques. 89-118. Cambridge Un. Press, Cambridge). Implantation of transponders also seems to have no detrimental effects (Galimberti et al., 2000, see Literature Page).
A report on the ethical background of the research, including notes on the impact of the research protocol on animal welfare is available see here (PDF file 34 k).