You all know how I feel about seals. They are the absolute best! I could watch them all day long (Really, I could. I once had a job in Australia where I watched fur seals all day long, and then in our free time we pretended the seals were soap opera characters. Good times). It is no surprise that when the weather is good and the sun is out, my favorite thing to do down here is hangout on the bow watching seals. This year the weather has been rough, and there have been relatively few seals hanging out on the ice. Last year we had a few days of “seal soup” this year we have had one day of “seal sprinkles” in slightly soupy weather. Without further ado here are some seals I saw (and may have said some silly things to).
Fur seals are great, just great. They are snarly and full of personality. This time of year we see a lot of big males out on the ice. “Fur seal” is not just clever name. They have amazing multi-layered fur coats that keep them warm and insulated. The outer layer is composed of coarse guard hairs that help the seals shed water. The guard hairs even keep water from reaching the inner coat while the seal is swimming The inner layer is composed of the the softest fluffiest fur you have ever touched. The densely packed soft fur traps air, keeping the seal insulated and toasty warm under water and on the ice.
The photo above shows just how well the fur seal’s coat insulates. The white spots are snow that has dried and stuck to the outer guard hairs. The inner fur is trapping all of the seals body heat, so the outer hairs don’t heat up. There is no melted snow on or around the seal.
Bar far the most numerous seal in the Western Antarctic Peninsula region is the crabeater.
Crabeaters are phocids, or true seals. They cannot rotate their front or rear flippers under them. That means they can’t really stand up on ice or land like fur seals can. They end up looking a bit like fat little inch worms when they try to move. What crabeaters lack in grace they make up for in teeth.
Crabeater teeth are amazing. If a had a bigger lens (cough, cough, married to a photographer and only have a tiny lens), you could see how intricately shaped this seal’s teeth are. Despite the name, crabeaters are actually krill specialists. When they eat, they take in big gulps of water. They then close their mouths, use their teeth as strainers to push the water out and keep the krill in. Crabeaters are also pretty fierce and will aggressively attack any threats. This is probably the reason that the seal eating killer whales tend to prefer the far less numerous Weddell seals. The ship passed very close to some crabeaters and we were treated to their snarly, tooth- filled threat displays.
Right, well hope you enjoyed my seal photos. This year has just been so very odd. We have had a lot of ice, but most of it was pancake ice (very newly formed) or surprisingly thin first year-ice. We have seen very little multi-year ice which is what is needed to keep the animal populations down here healthy. The past few years almost all of the ice has melted out in the summer heat, so it never gets a chance to build up. The summers are hotter longer, so the ice starts forming later during the winter. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that the first year ice is noticeably thinner this year; at the start of winter this region recorded a record setting high temperature of 63 F. Here is hoping that some of of this lovely newly formed ice sticks around until next year.
Well that is enough talk about the sad state of the sea ice, here are some parting penguins