4 Jan 2007

A different life on ice

Back in the boat, as we slowed down to navigate our way through the ice again, I ran my hand through the icy water. We were following a channel between two islands en route to an inlet where
Marie was planning snorkel with her underwater camera. There would be no snorkelling there today though – a leopard seal was lounging about nearby.

Early Antarctic explorers describe harrowing encounters with leopard seals. However,although some attacks have been documented, most of the stories may just be folklore. That being said, my Australian Antarctic Division Field Manual does warn me not to loiter near the edge of the sea ice near penguin rookeries… especially if I’m wearing a dinner jacket!

Leopard seals may look clumsy and ungraceful on land, but in the water they are excellent swimmers and formidable hunters. They use their powerful jaws and long teeth to prey on a variety of species, including krill, squid, fish and sometimes even other seals.

By analysing leopard seals’ poo, scientists have worked out that Adelie penguins are their favourite food. So, it was hilarious to watch a group of Adelies taunt this leopard seal on land!
Adélie penguins were everywhere - swimming alongside us, leaping gracefully like dolphins in arches from the water and diving off the ice floes as we approached.

Vonna, Marie and I take a break inside the melon hut on Peterson's Island.

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