Weddell Seals (Leptonychotes wedelli) at breathing holes

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Antarctic seals

Antarctic seals

Weddell seals are very hardy, resourceful and quite remarkably behaviourally adapted for life in the Antarctic pack and fast-ice as these two pictures show.In the top picture, the seal has found a breathing hole through pieces of only partially consolidated pack-ice where there is a non-frozen portion that is nonetheless filled with slush. From below such a region will let considerably more light through than the thick pack-ice pieces and stand out like a beacon to a seal swimming by, even if it is solid, it will be thin and probably thin enough for the seal to break through. Weddell seals have no land-based predators and so there is no danger to them of coming up to such breathing holes, just the odd surprise if there's a wandering scientist nearby to capture the moment on camera.

The lower picture is of a Weddell seal that has made a hole in apparently unbroken, though quite thin fast-ice and hauled out for a rest. We came across this seal while out several miles from the shore on recently formed and very hard and strong, but disconcertingly thin ice. In fact we didn't realise how thin the ice was until we came across this seal and the hole it had made. It was entirely unperturbed by a group of 5 people manhauling a heavily laden sledge with camping gear as we went off on our holidays and treated us as if we weren't really there at all. Seals probably live a fairly surreal life anyhow.

Photo; © Paul Ward