Even a few years ago it was unusual to see a South Georgia fur seal down in Antarctica. Today they are increasingly common, perhaps as a result of global warming and certainly because the South Georgia population is booming. They are easily recognised by their thick coats, long whiskers and the fact they can stand and move quickly utilising both rear and front flippers. As anyone who visits South Georgia can attest they are born bad tempered and will bite you if they get the chance.
The giants of the seal world are the elephant seals though the largest males, the beachmasters with their floppy trunks have normally returned to the water well before the first visitors of the season arrive. The term here is “sexual dimorphism” – the females may weigh up to 800 kilograms while a beachmaster can weigh 4000 kilograms or four tonnes. They are most likely to be seen in South Georgia where the main risk they pose is if you get run over by a large adult rushing back into the water. Young “eles” with their huge liquid eyes are adorable balloons of blubber that are not adverse to settling in on a pile of life jackets or in the lap of an expeditioner.
There’s a wealth of life in the water, too. Krill and starfish, small crustaceans and jellyfish are at one end of the scale and whales are at the other. It’s possible that you’ll encounter whales along the Peninsula, too. Most common, particularly in the second half of the season, are humpback whales that have eaten well and have time to be curious about visiting ships and boats. Close encounters are unforgettable. Sleek minke whales are sometimes seen but they tend to be quite skittish. Finally, there are several pods of orcas that life along the Antarctic Peninsula. They are always on the move so if you hear an excited call of “orca!” you don’t have seconds to waste.
Learn more about the unique wildlife in Antarctica.