Quilt Gallery

Friday, October 18, 2013

Antarctic Wildlife: Whales and Seals

For most people thoughts of Antarctica first bring to mind penguins.  Not surprising since they are found exclusively in the southern latitudes.  Yet, Antarctica is also rich with marine mammals: seals, dolphins, and whales. Our trip last January gave us opportunities to observe all of these up close.  Perhaps, in some cases, too close.

On South Georgia Island the high density of seals made walking difficult in some places.  Fur seals, of which we saw thousands, can be very aggressive and have a nasty, bacteria-laden bite so we were particularly wary near them and carried ski poles to fend off ones that were nipping at our legs.

Steve and fur seals, South Georgia Island

Still, the pups are adorable, especially the rare white ones.

White fur seal pup, South Georgia Island

Elephant seals like to lie close to each other, like so many sausages in a too-small pan, and have remarkably expressive faces and mannerisms.

Elephant seals, South Georgia Island

Weddell seals' enormous eyes give them sweet-looking faces.

Weddell Seal, Neko Harbor

Leopard seals are the the most aggressive and scariest-looking of all.  We were definitely too close to this one!

Leopard seal, Port Charcot, Booth Island

Interesting as the seals are, whales seemed to be the real favorites among passengers, perhaps because they are more rarely sighted, because of their sheer size, because fleeting glimpses of a back or a tail make them so mysterious, or maybe even because of how they conjure images of Moby Dick, Ishmael and Captain Ahab.  The announcement of a whale-sighting was always the quickest way to get passengers scurrying out of their cabins onto the decks or up to the bridge for a better view, binoculars and cameras in hand.  Even better were the Zodiac cruises where we could maneuver for close-up views and photos.

Humpback Whale,  Neko Harbor

Tail-throwing humpback whale
Zipping around Antarctic waters in a Zodiac can be very cold, so proper clothing is key to staying comfortable.  I wore as many layers as would fit under my rain jacket and pants and then added gloves, hat and neck warmer.  The latter was one I had made on the journey from home to the Falklands Islands where we met our ship.  Unfortunately, I chose a pattern for a rather floppy garment that didn't stay snug around my neck and didn't add much to my comfort.

Since then I have made another one with a ribbed neck which I think will keep me much warmer.  It is basically the neck portion of a turtleneck sweater, but with a nice leaf design.  I knit it, with a silk and merino blend that is comfortable against bare skin, using a pattern purchased at Northampton Wools.  So, now I am all set for another Antarctic trip...

Lace Edge Neck Warmer

On a sad note, fifty years after the end of Antarctic whaling there are still many visible remains of that industry. There is, of course, simply the small number of whales, whose populations still have not bounced back to pre-whaling levels.  Then there are the whale bones, some of which have been gathered together and formed into facsimiles of whole whales.

Re-assembled whale skeleton near Brazil's Ferraz Station, Admiralty Bay, King George Island

Finally, there are the piles of whale bones and remains of old whale boats, as at Deception Island, 

Whalebones and "water boat" at Whaler's Bay, Deception Island

and entire whaling stations, such as at Stromness and Grytviken on South Georgia Island, which show the industrial scale on which whaling was conducted.

Grytviken, South Georgia Island

1 comment:

  1. Re-assembled whale skeleton near Brazil's Ferraz Station, Admiralty Bay, King George Island

    It was the commander Jacques-Yves Cousteau who arranged these bones. You can see it in the episode 25 of his series The Undersea World.

    BTW, nice reading and lovely pictures. Many thanks, and kind regards.

    Joan Coll