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White Island
McMurdo Station - Antarctica

White Island, about 15 mi long, protruding through the Ross Ice Shelf immediately E of Black Island. Discovered and named by the Scott's 1901-04 Discovery Expedition, the name comes from the covering of snow which covers it (unlike Black Island that is almost always free of snow and dark because of the volcanic nature of it's rock).

White Island is notable because of its unusual and isolated population of Weddell Seals.

This is the most southerly population of Weddell seals being only 1 300 kilometres from the South Pole, though this is not the only remarkable thing about them. They are isolated from the rest of the world as the nearest open sea for them to is too far under the very thick ice of the Ross ice shelf for them to get out.

These seals are thought to have travelled to this area between 50 and 100 years ago when a large chunk of permanent ice shelf broke off. They were then trapped when it reformed behind them and have remained here ever since. They use cracks in the ice immediately beside White Island to reach the sea, they must dive about 70 metres here through cracks in the ice before they get down to the open sea below. In the summer when the sea ice has broken up, it is still at least 22 kilometres to the next breath at the edge of the ice shelf, too far for the seals to manage.

So here they remain unable to leave the area and with a deep dive past walls of ice before they can even begin fishing.

24th October 2007

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This picture published courtesy of Alan Light - This picture is in the public domain.
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