Quantum Lep! / by Jerry

It's been an exciting few days as we've had our first Leopard Seal. These huge (up to 4m long) predators breed on the pack ice but head off following their prey (cephalopods, krill, fish, penguins, and other seals) through the winter. A few are seen around Bird Island most winters and it is the job of the seal assistant to monitor their presence.


My first view of a Leopard Seal. Compare the sizes of him, Hannah and the huge Tussoc grass on the slopes.
A happily sleeping Leopard Seal. We waited at a distance for ages until he was snoring peacefully.
Hannah retrieving the GLS from Max's flipper tag while he sleeps.

Many follow the same routes year upon year and that is true of this individual, known as Max. Much work has gone into photographing visiting Leopard Seals and a large database exists with records of their distinctive coat patterns, so specific individuals can be identified. This one also carried a small tag and geolocator which Hannah was able to retrieve, so fingers crossed we will be able to download the data and see where this seal has travelled since it was last here. As always this information builds up our knowledge of these species which will allow us to better protect them and their environment.



This Leopard Seal had a big cut on his back, caused by what we don't know,  but it was causing him trouble. Mainly because the brave / stupid Sheathbills kept pecking at it, winding him up while he was trying to sleep. These photos of him growling are results of disturbed sleep.

This seal is dwarfing the resident Fur Seals, the largest of whom just about reach 2m but none of those big boys are around at the moment. There are often one or two Elephant Seals around too but again none of the massive males. There is a huge difference in appearance between the seal species; the Furries have quite fuzzy faces, a bit like dogs or bears. The Ellies have huge bowling-ball heads with gigantic dark eyes and the Lep looks more like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. While the Fur Seals can stand up and run around on their front flippers, like sea lions, the Elephants and Leps move by shuffling their whole bodies, like Grey and Harbour seals seen in the UK. The front flippers on the Ellies look so small in comparison it's difficult to imagine them being very effective, but then you see the size of their back flippers.
Fur Seal yawning aggressively. 
T-Rex head: Leopard Seal reacts poorly to shit-chicken disturbance.
The huge, wobbly Elephant Seal with it's spherical head and gigantic eyes.

There's been a few days of calmish, clearish weather and when we get conditions like that it's always worth looking out for whales. So the prior to Max arriving the Lep round delivered great views of a couple of Southern Right Whales circling and diving not far from the base.

Southern Right Whale diving.
A few other jobs have cropped up that have involved walking round the beaches. Through the winter I carry out a collection and record of marine debris on the Main Bay. Very little washes up but it gives me a good excuse to be out with the camera with time to take photos of some of Bird Island's less-appreciated avian life.

Pair of South Georgian Pintail; the cute, carnivorous ducks.
South Georgia Pipit; the world's most southerly songbird.

At spring high tides through the winter we will also be counting the number of Pintail and Sheathbills over a set transect. Very little work is done on these species but this is a simple way of recording population changes.
Wandering Albatrosses displaying behind a chick.
Albatross work continues, although almost all the Black-brows have now fledged and many of the Grey-heads are looking ready to depart. Wandering Albatross still dot the hills, valleys and meadows, whether fat chicks sitting in their nests waiting for food or adults courting they are always fascinating.

Grey-headed Albatross chick. Still a fluffy one but many are far more developed than this.
Wandering Albatrosses courting on Bottom Meadow.
Jerry.