Last Friday after dinner I decided to take a walk up the glacier to see if there was any open water to be spotted in the area. It was supposed to be close to a full moon, and I thought that there might be some interesting lighting conditions to use to take some photos of the station. I’d gotten distracted by some work stuff so by the time I got geared up it was already getting pretty dark. I was listening to the final couple of chapters of the new Harry Potter audio book on my mp3 player, and wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to the stuff around me. Up ahead on the trail was a big dark shape, and since it had been windy the past few days I figured a trash bag had somehow escaped and gotten away from station. I was going to put a rock on it to hold it in place till I got back down when it suddenly started growling and lunging at me. It turned out that it was a HUGE Weddell seal that looked like it was just in the beginning of labor.

Apparently it’s fairly common this time of the year for Hero inlet to become a nursery for Weddell seals, but to have one come this far inland was very unusual. I followed her tracks back to the sea ice and found two more Weddell seals on the other side of the harbor. They were all looking pretty miserable, and kept making these noises that sounded like something between a growl, a moan, and a howl. One would do it, and then the other two would reply. It was kind of like they were all in some seal Lamaze class, encouraging each other to breathe!

By this time, it was pretty dark, so I headed back to station to tell the others what I’d found. The next morning, I was out there as soon as possible. The seal on land was still there, looking even more miserable than before. She was getting very defensive about her territory, growling and lunging as soon as I entered her personal zone of safety. I quickly backed off, and left her alone to her labors. One of the other seals on the sea ice had apparently given birth during the night, but unfortunately for me she was on the other side of the inlet, and I didn’t have time to hike up the glacier just then.

Later on after work, I wandered back out to see what was going on. The new mother was looking pretty tired and unhappy. We’ve got these birds around called Antarctic Sheath-bills that are the worst opportunistic scavengers you’ll ever see. Normally they hang out around our sewer outfall taking advantage of our leftovers, but now they were harassing the new mom, trying to pick off all the afterbirth from both her and her newborn. I climbed the glacier to get over to their side of Hero inlet, and managed to get some decent photos of mom and baby. The infant was asleep, and facing the wrong way, so unfortunately these aren’t my best shots. On the way back to station I stopped by the original seal one more time to check on her, and noticed that she seemed even more miserable than before.

Sunday afternoon I finally got around to wandering out to see her again, and it turned out that sometime in the last 18 hours she’d given birth. Mom and the newborn were looking happy and healthy. I couldn’t believe the size of the infant…no wonder the mom looked so miserable! Both of them were extremely active, playing with each other, and fighting off the sheath-bills. This youngster still had the umbilical cord attached, and every so often Mom would nibble at it to see if she couldn’t get it off. I hung around and watched them playing for an hour so before heading back home to see how the pictures came out.

7 Responses

  1. elle

    In the fifth grade we had to write a report about a species and build a replica/model of one. My friend and i picked the seal and built a paper baby seal. After the project, she and I got into a fight over who would keep the paper seal becuase it was SOOOO cute.

    As is the photo of the baby seal in your post. What an amazing story. Really cool.

    Reply
  2. debutaunt

    And see. Yet another thing I won’t encounter on my job. Angry enginerds is usually all that cross my path.

    Thanks for letting me live vicariously though you.

    Reply
  3. georgette

    WOW! Once again I’m green with envy…. meanwhile I swelter in the 92 degree Austin heat, wondering where autumn is…

    Enjoy!

    Georgette

    Reply
  4. Dottie

    Hoe exciting to see the mom and baby! I was on vacation to the North Pole and Svalbard Islands this past summer and saw new baby Polar bears! Your encounter is equally exciting! Keep up sharing your world experiences with us. Makes me wat to return to the Antarctic for a 2nd encounter. I was chased by a Fur seal, that had been aggravated by some young men, when in Antarctica and that was scarey! Glad you didn’t have a similar encounter with these bigger seals!

    Reply
  5. John Kosciolek

    Hey Henry
    John Kosciolek here aka Slim Shady.
    I was watching a CNN story the other day about the station and
    it reminded me of you.
    I have a 1 year old son “Nicholas” and am working at Honeywell here in
    Phoenix.
    Drop me a note at the yahoo.
    Slim

    Reply
  6. michael weddell

    It must be great to see such an amazing sight in such a barron wilderness and itis nice too see my namesake doing so well.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: