Tuesday 28 January 2014

Southern Elephant Seals and Antarctic Fur Seals

Adelie Penguin Colony, Bongrain Point, Pourquoi Pas Island
This morning felt like a vacation on vacation as we got to sleep in just a tad.   Our landing at Bongrain Point on Pourquoi Pas Island didn’t start until 09:30.
It was snowing for a good part of the morning.  Not enough to give any ground cover but it certainly added to the Antarctic ambiance.
The landing sight was quite impressive.  Beautiful black and brown craggy cliffs rose up over a boulder strewn plain.  Adjacent to the plain was an impressive blue glacier.  Along the shoreline and at the base of the cliffs were several small Adelie Penguin colonies.  The large number of Skuas here seemed disproportionate to the small number of penguins.  It seemed likely that the Skuas were also predating on fish.  One had to be careful when crossing the plain not to wander too close to a nesting Skua.  If you’ve ever had a zealous guardian Skua fly at your face, you’ll know why.
Male Antarctic Fur Seal
There was one lone young male Antarctic Fur Seal which growled threateningly if anyone strayed too close. 
Southern Elephant Seals, Jenny Island
In the afternoon we landed on Jenny Island.  The attraction here were molting Southern Elephant Seals and a handful of young male Antarctic Fur seals.  Southern Elephant Seals have an annual catastrophic molt where they haul out in small groups and shed their skin and hair. This process takes three to five weeks. They leave the water for the duration of the molt as growing new skin and hair requires a rich blood supply right at the body’s surface.  This would then present them with a problem of heat loss in the water. 
Southern Elephant Seals, Jenny Island
Essentially they haul out at this time to prevent the heat loss.
The Southern Elephant Seals we saw today are at the extreme southern edge of their range.