Penguins maybe the star attraction in antarctica, but seals are a strong supporting act. We saw many on the beaches in South Georgia, but most of the sightings in Antarctica have been around the ship and on icebergs. They like to find small thin pieces of floating ice that they can easily haul themselves up on to have a nap.
We mainly see three types of seal. Most sightings are of the crab catcher seal. They are adorable. Big fat roly poly seals that you just want to cuddle.
They try hard to prove they are not that fat by attempting to clasp their front flippers around their stomach but they never quite manage it.
The strangest fact about the crabeater seal is that they do not eat crabs. They eat krill and nothing but krill, the tiny shrimp like creatures that are so abundant in the antarctic. The Norwegians named these seals krill eaters, but when said in Norwegian it sounds distinctly like crab eaters and so the name stuck. It is hard to imagine how many krill a seal has to eat to look like this
But however many it is, it puts a permanent smile on its face
Then there is the leopard seal. A far less adorable seal. At first sight it looks sort of cool. Much longer and sleeker than the crabeater and covered in spots.
But you know the saying about a leopard and its spots. It applies to the leopard seal as well. As soon as you get a closer look at the head and mouth, you realise that those teeth are not necessary for eating krill.
Jut like its namesake, it is a long lean killing machines. It is the ocean’s most dominant predator and has no enemies of its own. When the leopard seals are young they can look kind of cute
But they still have that mouth
An adult leopard seal will eat anything it can catch, and as it can swim at speeds of up to 24 mph that means just about everything including penguins, seals and even young elephant seals.
And to make it even more terrifying, when it catches a penguin it kills it in a most unpleasant manner. Of course there isn’t a pleasant way to kill a penguin, but trust me you never want to see a leopard seal doing it.
The third type of seal we see is the Southern Elephant Seal. It is enormous. The female elephant seal is not the most attractive of seals
but compared to the male, she is a delightful little thing. You know that I hate to be critical of anyone, but there is no way of avoiding the fact that the male elephant seal is ugly. It has a face that only a mother could love, with its massive and seriously unattractive snout.
This appendage is the reason the seal is called an elephant seal. But it seems to be a grave injustice to the elephant whose long and comparatively elegant trunk bears no resemblance to this wrinkly sack. The elephant’s trunk is useful in many ways while the elephant seals snout has only one purpose – to make this gigantic ugly creature even more bellicose than ever. The seal can actually inflate this unpleasant proboscis making it larger and even more unattractive. He does this to make his bellows and grunts even louder, putting the fear of god into other males and the poor females which will have to have sex with him
The male elephant seal is 7 or 8 times larger than the female and can weigh an alarming 8,880 pounds. Next to him the females look puny and must anticipate their love making with a certain amount of trepidation. The dominant male elephant seal collects an enormous harem of females around him, often claiming up to 120 wives. He then has to keep them as his own and protect them from young marauding males with aspirations. He dashes their hopes by bellowing and threatening, and if that doesn’t work, by fighting. Meanwhile he must somehow find the energy to impregnate each and every one of his harem. It’s a tough job and someone has to do it. No wonder they don’t live long.
The males who continually lose the fights never get to sire a pup and spend their lives in isolation without a female. Some think of this as rather a severe punishment, but others not so much.
Now dear readers, on to an interesting little fact about fur seals. A very few of them have been caught engaging in an extreme form of sexual behaviour. I know, it is hard to believe these large ungainly creatures could partake in any form of sexual behaviour, let alone extreme, but they do.
Specifically, they have been trying to have sex with penguins.
More than one fur seal has been caught in the act. The first recorded sighting of this was by scientists in 2006 who caught a fur seal attempting to make love to a king penguin. Now it is impossible for humans to visually tell the difference between a male and a female penguin, and whether the seal knows the difference or even cares is up for debate.
The reason for this behaviour is unknown but one suggestion is that the act was performed by a sexually inexperienced male seal, although one would presume that a young seal, however inexperienced would know the difference between a female seal and a penguin.
Sadly no one knows whether the penguin enjoyed it as the seal, exhibiting a serious lack of manners, ate the penguin afterwards. It gives a whole new meaning to having your cake and eating it.
I would hasten to add that this abhorrent behaviour has only been seen a very few times, and never by a Seabourn passenger.