The Many Faces of South Georgia’s Antarctic Fur Seal

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Visiting South Georgia feels like being part of a wildlife documentary, and the fur seal is one of many characters auditioning for a leading role.

South Georgia is a British territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean. It is wild and rugged, inhospitable but spectacular, historically fascinating, home to extraordinary quantities of wildlife and has long been a gateway to Antarctica.

After being such a highlight of my first travel expedition to Antarctica two years ago, there was no way I could plan a return to the white continent without including in my itinerary again.

And I didn’t regret it. If South Georgia was a “highlight” last time then I’m lost for words to describe it this time.

My time there felt like being part of my own wildlife documentary and each landing provided material for a new episode. There was a constant stream of characters vying for leading roles: king penguins, giant petrels, gentoo penguins, elephant seals, macaroni penguins, whalers of by-gone eras and even the ghost of Shackleton.

And of course, the fur seal: aggressive, entertaining and present at every site we visited.

Remnants of the Stromness Harbour whaling station in South Harbour provide a playground for playful and curious fur seal pups.

About the Antarctic Fur Seal

The species of fur seal found in South Georgia is the Antarctic Fur Seal, an eared seal. A bull has an average weight of 200kg and can reach 2 metres in length, whilst females average 40kg and 1.4 metres.

Closely related to sea lions and dogs, the fur seal was hunted to near extinction in the 19th century. But populations have since rebounded, to the extent that some beaches in South Georgia are not accessible during breeding season due to the dense populations hauled out on shore.

The breeding season begins in November, with males arriving on land to compete for territory. Brutal battles are fought, lost and won. The victors claim their territory, attract their females, establish their harems and adopt an aggressive role of protector and guard.

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We arrived in South Georgia in the middle of December and were greeted by territorial males, protective females and curious two-week old pups.

And this meant that every landing felt like running and surviving the fur seal gauntlet.

If we walked too close to a male’s harem, he charged. If we walked too close to a female’s pup, she charged. If we kept our distance, the pups playfully charged. If the pups charged and got too close, the adults charged. It was a never-ending cycle and on densely populated beaches like Salisbury Plain, having to stand your ground and clap loudly to deter a charge was an inevitable part of the experience.

But it didn’t take long for the running of the gauntlet to become second nature and a variety of landscapes on seven different landings provided a great opportunity to sit back and enjoy the entertaining behaviour of the fur seal families.

Here are some of their many faces:

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Fur Seal Pups

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

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Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia

Salisbury Plain, South Georgia

 

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. They’re so cute! I was just looking at some of my own pictures of seals from the Valdez Peninsular earlier today. They make some astonishing expressions. I have a photo of one looking like he’s having a ‘doh’ moment while tapping his head and another where he’s yawning with his flipper over his mouth!

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