From a distance, a seal appears to be napping on the rust-colored rocks; members of its small colony grunt at one another as sea spray brings some respite from the searing midsummer heat. But on closer inspection, one of the seal’s eyes is open and pointing vacantly at the sky.
Tess Gridley bends over the dead animal, and instructs her university students and volunteers to check for parasites. Fewer bugs means a fresher carcass, which is what these researchers are looking for. Binoculars pressed to her face, Gridley scans the rocky outcrop and finds five more bodies, which the students line up on the rocks in a funereal procession. “A colony of this size, you wouldn’t expect to see so many freshly dead,” she says. Read on.