Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dead Seal

******Warning, this post contains graphic, and somewhat disturbing photographs*******

Antarctica, for all its beauty is far from an easy place, and even harsher for the wildlife. We have been in the Hutton Cliffs seal colony for over two months now, and watched some pups die, and some adults die. We have seen severely scarred males, who are constantly fighting under the water, and skuas who are here primarily for carrion. Everyone knows that nature is rough, and even though these look like cute, cuddly animals, their lives are far from. Several weeks ago, Rich and I were out on a walk through the colony when we saw a gathering of skuas. This typically means one of two things, first a pup has just been born and they are awaiting the afterbirth, or two; some animal is dead, or about to die. As it is beyond normal birthing season, we expected the later, and that is what we found.

Although we have seen dead seals being fed on by skuas, this was a particularly fascinating, but morbid event. The mom had by all appearances only recently died. The skuas were just starting to peck at her when we arrived. The first thing skuas go for are the eyes. They are soft, and easy to get into, unlike the thick hide which the birds have trouble tearing through.

skua beginning to take out the eyes:

After some time, more and more skuas began to circle the carcass, hoping for their chance at a meal.

In very little time, the eyes were entirely devoid of edible flesh, and the skuas began to search for other opportunities.

It was at this point that Rich and I realized the most horrifying part of what was happening. The mother, though obviously dead, still had a pup lying next to her, who was alive, and oblivious to what was happening all around it. The pup was in fact still attempting to suckle the mother, while the skuas were having their way with her.

Pup attempting to suckle while skuas feed:

Skuas moving on to other opportunities:

Skuas bathing post feast:

Freshly bathed skua in search of more food:Although this was a grizzly reminder of how tough nature can be, it is a fact of life, and one we are confronted with more than one would like in this environment.

Friday, December 08, 2006


No use skirting the subject! We finally saw penguins, and not just one or two, HUNDREDS! After two months here, our PIs were finally convinced that it was a good idea to have a day off, and take a nice little trip. We headed out towards Cape Royds, home to an Adelie Penguin Rookery, and the trip was going well, though the road was bumpy and caused my back to ache. After several miles we saw what looked to be four black rocks on the side of the "road."

Four Little Black Rocks:
Low and behold we had come upon four Emperor Penguins, out for a nice leisurely stroll. We stopped our skidoos and hopped off, and the ever curious penguins came to investigate!

Coming to investigate these odd Red things:

Dan enamored with the Penguins:

2 Emperor's viewing their world:

Penguin feet:

2 Emperor's vocalizing:

2 Emperor's displaying:

Bird brains at work:

And then they'd finally had enough, with one choosing to tabagon away!:

We spent some time watching them waddle, and vocalize, and then were off again on our way to the rookery. When we got there it smelled of penguin! Anyone who has ever spent time around any penguin species know they have a very potent odor, and even in these cold conditions they smell. We walked over the hill, and there before us was a real penguin rookery, alive and boisterous. Before we could really go explore we were allowed to view Shackleton's Hut, but more on that later, for now we'll talk about penguins!

Although the Emperor’s were truly majestic, the little Adelies were much more interesting. They are full of energy, and always seem to be interacting with each other.

2 Adelie Penguins sizing each other up:

Many of them were on their nests, which are essentially small mounds of rock which they very lovingly gather and use in order to gain copulations with the females. Some were lucky, and their rocks were good enough, and some were not. One of the more fascinating aspects of the day was the skua/penguin interactions. I have already mentioned my love of skuas, I find them fascinating, but here they were definitely playing the bad guy. I watched two skuas slowly walk around the colony, frequently being chased off, until they found one semi isolated nest. One skua then lured the nesting Adelie off the rock mound, and the other promptly stole the egg and carried it off. The two then reconvened and had themselves a nice lunch. After several mournful cries, the had-been nest sitter trotted off into the colony, presumably looking for another partner.

While some of the penguins were incubating their eggs, others were marching towards open water, and the opportunity to feed. The open ocean was only 4 or 5 miles from the colony, just on the horizon and many penguins were eagerly heading in that direction. It was quite a treat to watch them come upon a crack in the ice and try to negotiate it. Some would jump, and some would walk around the impediment, though all were able to cross safely, as best I could tell. They small bands would reunite on the other side of the obstruction, and continue their march.
This trip really was a treat, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of this trip!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Its Finally Happened!

Right now it is warmer in Antarctica than it is in Washington DC! I've been waiting with baited breath for this to happen, and I'm almost giddy that I am in such a warm weather local!

Current Conditions
Partly Cloudy
29F / -2C
21F / -7
8 mph NNW

Where as in balmy Antarctica

Hey, down here you take what you can get, and I'll take this!!!!!!!!