We all went to Antarctica to primarily see penguins. But luckily, we also got to meet several kinds of birds as well seals (and krill in a bucket — more on that later). This rounded out our wildlife experience in unexpected, and unforgettable, ways.
My first encounter with a seal was somewhat unusual but gave us a taste of what grown seals in the wild, especially the water, are like. I was on the last zodiac to leave after a landing. As I was stepping into the water to get into the zodiac, two penguins came shooting out of the shallow water at high speed right next me. A few meters behind them, the surface was moving around, not far from the nose of the zodiac. One of the expedition team folks immediately recognized that there was a Leopard seal hunting penguins in the little bay.
Leopard seals are large, up to 4 meters, and ferocious hunters. But they have also become known for attacking zodiacs and biting holes into them. That explained why we were ushered into the zodiacs very quickly to leave immediately. While getting out of the bay, we kept watching out for leopard seal and indeed saw it at the surface a few more times. But luckily, it did not follow us.
Next time we saw seals was from a safe distances and on our first zodiac cruise. We spotted seals on a small beach right by the water and in between snow-covered mountains. There were maybe 8-10 of them, all resting and not moving much. Penguins would often walk by or even in between them. Nothing would disturb their beauty rests in this very picturesque setting it seemed.
On another zodiac cruise, we came past a little rocky island. One secluded spot was packed with elephant seals with at least ten of them laying right next to each other. One male was lifting his head to show us his big bulgy nose. They didn’t appear to be worried but at least it was exciting for us to see so many of them. Grown male elephant seals are quite enormous, being as large as 6 meters which was about the length of our zodiacs, and weighing in at 4000 kg (8800 lb). Fittingly, they get their name from having trunk-like snouts.
In Deception Island, we marched right by three Weddell seals laying around and sleeping on the ice. One moved around ever so slightly to check out who was staring at them but was otherwise uninterested in us. It had a bloody streak on its back, presumably from some fighting with other seals.
All these encounters truly conveyed the “work hard, play hard” spirit. Seals come to rest and recharge on land only to be back in the water ready to do their best job. While we don’t literally hunt during our work hours, it’s clear that in order to be our best selves and to achieve what we set out for, we must regularly unplug, take real breaks, and connect with nature to fully re-energize ourselves for what’s to come next just like seals do.