Science students at the Tromsø University have a very unique proximity to the things they are studying. The Institute of Arctic Biology is like a miniature zoo on campus. The students and researchers can study muskox, reindeer, snow grouse, fish, and even seals. The seals have their own indoor pool with fresh Arctic sea water and plenty of food, but in return they have to put up with the occasional prodding from curious scientists.

Since seals are born swimmers, they are hard to catch even in a small pool. So if you can’t remove them from the water, you’ll just have to remove the water. Now they are suddenly sitting ducks.

Sitting ducks or not, seals are predators and should be treated as such. Only trained staff is allowed in the pool to collect them. They growl like an angry dog if you move too close, and if you turn your back on them they might just have a chomp.

The seal we used for this study was only a pup, but it still weighed in at over 100 kgs. A lift was needed to hoist him out of the pool.

The seal had a bag thrown over its head to calm it down while the handler strapped it to a board.

What’s this, a beauty treatment? Not quite, the seal was simply shaved and blow dried in certain spots so we could attach electrodes for the heart monitor.

Everything is set for bath time. The study was about the seal’s ability to lower its heart rate to a bare minimum when under water, to preserve oxygen. To make the experiment valid, the seal actually had to be “forced” under water so it wouldn’t know when it could breathe again. It may sound cruel, but these animals can easily hold their breath for 20 minutes in the wild. Plus, this fella was used to the treatment and showed no signs of stress.

In fact, he seemed to prefer keeping his head under water even during the breaks. Only occasionally would he look up to have a peek at the funny creatures in white coats. 

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