Readers’ wildlife photos

March 15, 2020 • 8:00 am

Reader Paul Hughes was a passenger on the first of my two trips to Antarctica last fall.  He took a gazillion photos, and sent me two batches, the first of which I’ll put up today. Paul’s notes and IDs are indented. (This counts as documentation of my trip, too, since we were on the same boat and in the same places. But of course Paul’s photos are better.)

Our first stop in Antarctica was at Yankee Harbour, on Greenwich Island. The harbor was used by American sealers as early as 1820, and later by whalers. Here there is a large colony of Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua), the third largest penguin species.

Penguins drink meltwater from pools and streams and eat snow for their hydration fix.

Eating so much seafood means drinking a lot of saltwater, but penguins have a way to remove it. The supraorbital gland, located just above their eye, filters salt from their bloodstream, which is then excreted through the bill – or by sneezing.

Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) eat krill, fish and penguins! They will attack crabeater seals, and are known to strike at humans that come too close. This one was too bored to move however, and stayed put whilst we kayakers launched our boats only metres away.

Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) are the largest seals in the world. Males can reach 5 metres (16.6 feet) in length, and weigh up to 5 000 kg (11 000 lb) – the same as nearly 4 family cars! Females are smaller, 2 – 3 metres (6.5 – 10 feet) in length, and weigh up to 900 kg (2 000 lb) – less than a car, but equivalent to 2 grand pianos! This pup is a newborn, as it still has a lanugo of fine black body hair. It soon moults to light brown. Females nurse the pups with extremely rich milk for 23 days, then abandon them. They mate and return to sea until the next breeding season. The abandoned pups remain ashore for another 50 days, losing about 70% of their body mass, before going to sea to feed independently.

The Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) is named after British Captain James Weddell, who discovered the species on an Antarctic sealing voyage in the 1820s.

Whale vertebra – a reminder of the whalers who practised outboard flensing in the early years of Antarctic whaling (1906-1925).

Blue glacier ice and white pack ice in Wilhemina Bay.

Orne Harbour was our first, and only, continental landing – but what a landing! Orne Harbour is a cove, one mile wide, indenting the west coast of Graham Land along the Danco Coast on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here we saw Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica). They feed mainly on krill, taken some 32 km (20 miles) offshore, at depths of 60 metres (200 feet). These birds are so fascinating that I would like to nominate them as honorary cats!

6 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Nice to revisit the Antarctic. I wonder if the cruise line has stopped their excursions.

    The penguin image “excreted through the bill” shows a bird with the tip of it’s bill missing. It doesn’t seem likely a predator would have attacked the bill. Perhaps injured in a courtship battle?

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