|1/ Young male
fur seal selects himself for an afternoon of fun by the
pictures were taken one afternoon in the Antarctic spring
(October) when I went for a
walk from the base on Signy island to the Gourlay Peninsula,
about a mile and half as the skua flies, but it always felt
a lot further than this due to the incredibly rugged nature
of Signy's terrain.
is a favourite place for the wildlife lover with huge nesting
colonies of Adélie and chinstrap penguins, loads of other
birds and plenty of seals, particularly fur seals.
Many of the seals are young males, unable
or not old enough to mate, so they tend to hang around together.
For many people their first encounters with fur seals are
rather disconcerting as they run along towards you on their
flippers for a few strides before stretching their neck
out and growling at you while showing some quite impressive
|2/ Warming up
by playing in the sea with a mate
along the shore-line on rocks between about a half and two
meters above sea-level puts you in a great position to see
into the crystal clear water and more importantly, to
see the seals that are swimming and playing about in the
sea. These are young and very playful sub-adults. The great
thing about this situation is that you can get really close
to the seals, almost as close as you can get at the zoo
without even trying. Squat down and they carry on playing
as if you're not even there.
Few animals enjoy playing
in the water quite as much as young fur seals do.
|3/ Initial feint,
come on then, lets play!
I walked along the rocky shore, there were seals just on
the land side away from the rocks and the occasional seal
asleep on the rocks. Most of the time I could sneak
around these without them knowing I was there, but this
was a young seal I inadvertently woke up.
To start with he made a run
towards me as many seals did, then gave up as they realised
you were walking away. For some reason though, this one
wouldn't give up and kept following me - I put on a
bit of a sprint to clear some space between us (they aren't
very quick for very long on land), but still he kept following
me. Eventually I did the same back to him, turned and ran
towards him thinking that would be the end of it (you don't
really want one sneaking up on you as those teeth and in
particular the rich bacterial mix in the mouth can give
you a lot of grief).
However, this one seemed
to sense some fun in the offing and in a state of some excitement
dived into the sea re-surfacing very close, giving me a
fright and resulting in a quick sprint land-wards!
|4/ Yeah, well
you don't scare me anyhow
clambered up onto a rock and sat there a while eyeing me
up and trying to appear calm and disinterested but actually
very curious - I at the same time was doing exactly the
aren't supposed to act like this, he was just like my
dog back home when he's woken up and decides to try
and get you involved in a game or play fight of some description.
There was only one thing
for it, take a run towards him as a feint and see how he
|5/ Safe distance, sizes the situation
He jumped into the sea and to my relief
I didn't slip on the wet rocks (maybe not the best place
to do it) and become a fur seal chew-toy.
So while I was better on the land, quicker
and more agile, he of course was master in his element and
I couldn't even go there in what I was wearing as despite
it being a relatively warm sunny day, the sea temperature
was at about 0C.
So he swam about a bit, probably trying
to entice me into the water in a way that worked with his
seal-mates when they get each other to play chasing games
in the sea. I read this picture as a "well you couldn't
even catch my tail flippers" type of message, then
waving the flippers at me as a taunt.
|6/ Blowing bubbles
and seeing under water and the surface at the same time
love this picture, it's so ethereal the way the seal
is right there in front of the camera, but also so distant
as well. I like the bubbles streaming from the one submerged
nostril, the fact that he has a view of above the water
and below the water and the abstract nature of the picture.
It's just what I'd do if I was a seal.
I was on a rocky ledge at
this point around 1.5m above the water while pointing my
camera down and following the seal around, Difficult to
get a shot as the water was so dark and the seal so fast.
|7/ OK - game
so we've eyed each other up, done a few rushes towards
each other and established the intention to play and have
fun, so off we go!
This is the very satisfactory
result of my rush at the seal causing him to dive into the
sea from the rock to the bottom right. The picture isn't
perfect, but I was pleased as I had the camera in one hand,
was trying not to follow the seal into the water and got
the shot off too.
He's just surfaced
swam round and is showing his reaction to my momentarily
gaining the upper hand in this game of chase.
|8/ You think
you're so far away - you don't know how high I can
jump from the sea!
easily pleased and sensing victory, I of course then became
very complacent. Thinking the seal now had to somehow
get back to where he was I prepared the camera for a few
more shots and just managed to get this one off of him launching
himself back onto the platform I'd just chased him from.
Now I knew that seals were
very fast and agile and could jump out of the water, but
for some reason, shooting up over 1.5m from the surface
and landing at my feet wasn't the expected outcome at
least as far as I was concerned!
For my fur seal friend
here, it was evidently not only possible, but also an integral
part of his cunning plan.
No pictures of him at
my feet as it was my turn to high-tail it. Despite our now
forming a friendship, I've seen enough fur seals play-fight
with too much involvement from those teeth to want to go
the whole hog with him. Getting away from tooth range was
quite easy as you just run uphill, that puts the seals at
a real disadvantage as they can lollop uphill, but not run.
I had to stop before too long though as the uphill led to
a smooth mossy area with many other sleeping fur seals which
I didn't want to tread on.
played like this for about 30 minutes in all walking about
half a mile along the shore line in the process. Some
of the time it was more energetic, at others less so. Here
he is in the shallows having done another lunge from the
depths to near-by getting me wet from his bow-wave in the
the apparent aggression it was all very good natured and
if I squatted down, I could calm things for a while. Seals
spend most of their time horizontal, rearing themselves
up and gaining height over another seal is a sign of intimidation
or aggression. This is why they often respond aggressively
to humans walking nearby - they feel they are being challenged.
Losing height gives them the message you are not a threat
and usually causes them to calm down.
away into the sunset, what a day!
good things come to an end however and it was probably
my inability to follow him into the sea that eventually
caused my new found friend to take himself off sea-ward
probably in search of a more able playmate.
A wonderful memory of a real
connection with a wild animal in its natural environment.
Why he decided to try and play like this I'm not sure,
but it was towards the end of my time in Antarctica and
I'd probably learned a lot more fur seal body-language
than I realised.