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South Pole Scientist

Wiley Archibald ’10 works to protect Antarctica and its animals

Hundreds of miles away from civilization, Wiley Archibald ’10 starts his day shoveling endless amounts of snow in howling winds. He slogs through rain and boot-sucking mud, wrestles with slippery animals who often want to bite him, and sifts through poop.

And he loves it. 

He should—ever since getting a B.A. in biology from Swarthmore and then an M.S. from Humboldt State, studying and caring for marine mammals has been his dream. 

Today, Archibald is a pinniped technician who spent the last North American winter in Antarctica and returned this fall for another five-month stay. (Pinniped refers to fin-footed marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and walruses.)

From a seasonal base in the South Shetland Islands, off the Antarctic Peninsula, Archibald studies the four kinds of seals found there, while his colleagues examine three kinds of penguins, although there is a lot of crossover.

As you can imagine, working in Antarctica isn’t easy, and not just because he’s busy seven days a week, eight to 12 hours a day.

“The distance is tough. You can’t just call or Skype home any time you want,” Archibald says. “I had to miss the wedding of one of my best friends.” 

It’s hard to complain, though, with constant reminders of what’s at stake, whether it’s walking outside and seeing a penguin staring at you, or finding baby seals playing at your doorstep. 

Archibald’s fieldwork is part of federal research into how climate change and commercial fishing in Antarctic waters are affecting key species in the region.

“Hopefully, our work here informs people on what is happening to this ecosystem and allows managers to make decisions that will one day protect all the species here, and throughout the Antarctic,” he says.

+ more Antarctic adventures here