Then there were the seals—crabeater, Weddell, and fur— those blobs of blubber lazing around the wreckage of old whaling boats, or on the pebbly beach. On one island we came cross groups of baby fur seals that wanted to play. We had been warned that they could turn aggressive if we turned our backs on them, so we were advised to back off slowly while locking eyes with them. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a swimming seal as I turned away from the beach and got chased by a barking seal for a few feet. Not charming at all.
We spotted a much more dangerous leopard seal, lean and mean, floating past us on an ice floe, enjoying a postprandial nap, perhaps after munching on some hapless penguins, or even a small fur seal pup. Canine-toothed leopard seals come in second to the killer whale, on the list of Antarctica’s top predators, but they are a threatened species and an uncommon sight. Mean seal, check.
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Plump, fluffy chicks that waddled up to us thinking we were their parents. We had been warned to stay at least 15 feet away from the wildlife, but hey, if they came over to us to peck on our boots, could we help it?
There was quite a commotion when the guides spotted the first humpback whale blows—sprays of water breaking the surface as the whales below expelled air from their blowholes. Likely all 120 guests, except Mom who chose to nap, rushed out on deck waiting for those whales to breach. We stood there entranced as they showed us their humps and their majestic tails. When they had gone, I headed back downstairs to tell Mom the tale of what she had missed.
You mean those? she asked, pointing at the window in front of her bed. And sure enough, the pod of whales gave Mom her own private show.
Mom claims she brings the sunshine wherever she goes. And Antarctica, the seventh continent she has visited in her lifetime, didn’t prove her wrong. Every day our guides said they were floored to see another sunny day. Most of the time the weather in Antarctica is overcast, we were told, with a sunny day perhaps once every 30 or so days. Perhaps it was Mom, perhaps it was that terrible global warming, but we had pleasant weather pretty much all throughout our voyage.