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Tag Archives: Crabeater Seal
This morning at 10:00 we slowly nosed over the Antarctic Circle – that point at which the sun refuses to dip below the horizon in the Southern summer and stubbornly hides its face for the duration of winter. The sea was shrouded in fog as we crossed the line and the wind was eerily absent so that an feeling of mystery hung in the air to be shattered by the strident blast from the ships fog horn to mark passing of the circle. This is the furthest South we have made it this year and despite the heavy ice we know will dog us as we make for Marguerite Bay, right now there is no ice in sight and the air temperature is a comfortable zero degrees. Strange to think that here in the depth of the Antarctic we are walking around in light sweaters while in Europe people are freezing to death in the grips of an icy spell that has seen temperatures thirty degrees below zero. But then again the Antarctic is a capricious mistress and all this calm weather leaves me with an inkling that at any moment the gales will be switched on and the ship will be wreathed in ice as the blizzard begins.
The highlight of today was a zodiac cruise in Cierva Cove. Started off in windy weather with a decent surge and I admit that it looked to be an uninspiring cruise with no wildlife despite the amazing scenery of glaciers and sheer cliffs covered with moss (a feature which has warranted special area status for the region).
But within ten minutes of leaving the ship I discovered a humpback whale cruising amidst the iceberg. What followed was 15 minutes of excitement as the whale breached and played within 15 meters of the zodiac. Pretty heady stuff, but eventually I decided to leave the whale to its own devises and find out what else the area had to offer. Ten minutes later I was sidled up to a leopard seal pup on an ice flow and watched as it yawned and slipped silently into the mess of brash ice covering the water. Apparently the pup was a little concerned by the ominous black zodiac checking it out and communicated the fact to his mum who promptly turned up and put on a show as she circled the zodiac and swam beneath us to see exactly what was threatening her young pup, Absolutely amazing to see these graceful predators up close and see the elegance of these killers swimming through the icy waters.
These highlights were followed with more fantastic Antarctic wildlife. Penguins porpoising and flying rocketing out of the water to land on icebergs … or occasionally to miss their mark and ricochet of the ice and back into the water. Groups of crabeater and weddell seals lounging on icebergs. Wilsons storm petrels skimming small crustaceans off the surface of the water … and many more of the sights that make the Antarctic one on the most spectacular wildernesses on the planet.
Definitely a good day….
It’s been a busy couple of days in Antarctica with no time to blog! Yesterday we sailed away from the storm at Deception Island and into the sunshine and calm seas of the Antarctic Peninsula. Ice all around and seals lying like lumps of lard on every available space. Orcas were circling the seals and krill were swarming.
The ice stopped us from reaching our destination but provided the opportunity to cruise in some spectacular scenery … soon the zodiacs were launched and we were walking amidst the penguins and zipping in amongst the ice flows to see the seals. Crabeater seals yawned and blinked at the strange intrusion but the most excitement came from a lounging leopard seal I spotted. I pulled the zodiac up to the ice and watched with awe as the powerful beast examined the strange sight of a fully laden zodiac eyeballing it from a distance of five meters across the ice … and then decided to take a closer look.
In fact, the beast charged across until it was a mere meter away before the ice gave way and deposited the animal (in a rather ungraceful manner) in the water …but not before the seal bumped it’s head on the side of the boat! Pandemonium ensues with screaming passengers and people jumping onto the floor of the boat. Meanwhile the leopard seal circled underneath, nudged the side of the boat and then worked out we weren’t worth the effort. Five minuted later she gracefully leapt from the water and resumed her slumber on the same chunk of ice … back on the boat hearts still thumped and the grins were spread from ear to ear.
Then back to the mother ship, some spectacular whale sightings with humpbacks feeding off the bow of the ship and thumping their huge tails in a spray of spume against the backdrop of the snowy peaks of the peninsula.
A quick cruise to the next landing, and an impromptu decision to camp on the continent for the night saw us scrambling to get all our gear ready, and ultimately saw me leading a group of thirty nervous passengers on their first night on the ice. Portal Point offered panoramic views of the icy waters and was a wonderful place to sleep under the stars with a light flurry of snow settling on the slumbering shapes of the shore party. There is certainly no better bedroom than Antarctica!
Right now we have completed another day of landing in scenery that is staggering even after years of working in Antarctica, and are now heading into the Drake Passage and back to Ushuaia. The seas are calm and the whole ship is partying. It’s always a little sad to leave the ice .. but then again, I’ll be back in a few days!!
Just days after crossing the Antarctic Circle we were reminded that this is still a dangerous place to take vessels even with all the modern technology carried aboard. Yesterday we were on standby all day after hearing reports that another ship in the region, the Polar Star, had run aground off Detaille Island and was taking on water. As we were the nearest vessel in the area we were all set to go to the rescue and take aboard the passengers and crew who had a very dismal outlook. As it turns out the Polar Star was able to get off the rock and slowly limp to a nearby research station to assess the situation, but it was a close thing. Meanwhile the ice blew in and kept us away from our landing today forcing us to divert to plan B and cruise amongst the icebergs that were likely a key factor in the grounding of the other ship. Not that I’m complaining…stunning landscape with literally hundreds of crabeater seals and an infinite array of shapes and colours in the ice. Very pretty but also it is worth remembering occasionally that this ice can lead to the end of our aspirations if we don’t pay our respects…
It has been a blazing hot day here in Antarctica with melt water streaming off glaciers and the sun beating relentlessly on our poor Antarctic suntans (i.e. white skin).We started the day in the Argentine Islands which are a complex maze of twisting passages and islands that are spectacular fun to drive through on a zodiac… and on the way there are several seasoned yachties with their yachts parked in out of the way coves amidst ice flows and piles of crabeater seals. Doubtlessly they have converged on the spot to sample the home distilled vodka of the nearby Vernadsky Station run by the Ukrainians. How I long to be down here on a day like this in Widdershins with Léonie by my side! But I guess being down here at all is not so bad at all! We finished the day with a long cruise on our little rubber boats in amidst the icebergs of Plenau Bay with elephant seals and Weddel seals on the beach and every ice flow crowded with crab eater seals and the occasional sinister form of a leopard seal contemplating which of the crabeaters will be its next meal. Now its time for my own meal but its hard to drag yourself away from the spectacular scenery passing by.