UNF biologist back from Antarctica

Weddell study a four-year project on the animal's growth and development


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A University of North Florida biologist recently made an exciting trip to Antarctica for an experience of a lifetime.

We first posted a story in October 2013 about Dr. Julie Richmond's research trip possibly being postponed due to the government shutdown.

The great news was that 10 days before her scheduled departure date, she received the news her trip was still on.

Dr. Richmond has been back from her trip for a few months now and used one word a lot to describe this trip: phenomenal. From the seals she got to interact with and study, to visiting a place she'd only dreamed of, the trip couldn't have gone any better.

"We had to be there during a very small window when females are nursing pups so we only had a very small tiny window of opportunity to get the research done," said Richmond.


Dr. Julie Richmond and other researchers from across the globe spent nearly six weeks in the frigid temperatures of Antarctica studying Weddell Seals. Richmond is a professor at UNF. She's studied the mammal for 15 years and has dreamed of going to the southern-most continent since she was a little girl.

That dream came true in November of 2013. She said the seals in Antarctica, that you see in these pictures from the Marine Mammal Protection Act, don't have many predators making it easier for researchers to approach them.

"With a more accessible animal its easier for us to help understand how animals are going to respond to climate change and how animals in the arctic and other extreme environments are going to respond," said Richmond.

The month and a half journey also gave researchers the chance to study female seals giving birth. Richmond said the animals are tied to both water and land, hunting for food in water and coming to land to give birth to their pups. Researchers are learning more about how the seals' bodies survive through such drastic climate changes.

"I'm a growth physiologist and so I study how animals grow and develop how nutrition impacts growth and develop," said Richmond.

Not only are doctors and research students taking part in this four-year project, but also PhD and masters students. Richmond hopes she can go back to Antarctica and she's currently writing a grant to get her own research funded and if that happens, she said she'll go back as lead investigator.