4 Jan 2007

Antarctic elephants

A juvenile male elephant seal.
Browning Peninsula
Today, we explored the inlets and islands around the Browning Peninsula — about a one-hour trip in a small boat from Casey Station. Our first stop was an island where some juvenile southern elephant seals had been spotted earlier in the week. We nosed the boat into an ice crack next to some rocks, and I had to jump out onto a piece of sea ice that probably won’t be there next week!

Southern elephant seals are the largest seals and one of the largest mammals on Earth — after some whale species and elephants. One adult male can weigh more than four tonnes… that’s about 80 of you! These heavyweights of the seal family can barely move on land, but once they are in the water, they are swift and powerful swimmers. The ones I saw looked pretty big to me, but they were just babies — about a year old. I had heard that elephant seals can scare off rivals by producing a deafening roar from their throat — made louder by their trunk-like nose, which acts like a sound box. But there was none of that today. All we could hear, and smell, was lots of farting and burping!

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