At South Georgia Island in 2007:
* A Southern Elephant Seal bull courting a female in his harem. He has fought for the privilege of having this harem but will probably only be able to hold this status for one season. His harem can be as many as 60 females. A true seal has no external ear pinnae, cannot place its hind flippers under its body, and cannot walk on all four flippers. On land, it gets around by waddling forward like a very fat and ungraceful glob. Underwater, it is the epitomy of grace.
* Two juvenile males practicing territorial defense for the time when they might have the opportunity to acquire a harem. Not all bulls end up with a harem.
*A bull displaying his full body. Despite their size, these guys can move quickly. Kathleen would “watch my back” as I moved in on my belly close enough to get video. In their zeal to fight or mate, pups are regularly crushed. An elephant seal colony is a pretty messy, noisy, and smelly place.
*A bull with a badly torn proboscis caused by a fight with another male.
*A young mother with her new born pup. Skuas (a predatory gull-like bird) are waiting for her to expel her placenta. That placenta, when expelled, vanishes in less than 30 seconds as a mass of Skuas consume it.
*Southern Fur Seal bulls. Unlike the elephant seal, fur seals are really like sea lions. They have external ear pinnae, relatively long and muscular fore flippers, and the ability to walk on all four flippers. These polygamous guys are very aggressive and territorial as their testosterone levels increase. Two weeks after this footage was recorded, the beach was full of fur seal bulls defending their turf as they bred. These bulls will attack human visitors. The defense is to carry a hiking stick and point it directly at the nose of an attacking bull. It works. Kathleen mounted a successful defense when two bulls came after her at the same time. One might argue that these guys wanted her around — she’s really cute. But, the sad truth is that anthropomorphism is not cool and they really wanted her to get lost.
*A large King Penguin colony at St. Andrew’s Bay. One is overwhelmed by both the massive amount of life and the vaulting beauty of this place. St. Andrews is my favorite place. It is where I can absorb the enormity of sight and sound, life and death. St. Andrews is where my soul is truly alive and where I feel close to God.
Kings walking the beach. They are very curious and unafraid. This was shot as I lay on my belly. If one keeps lower than the animal, some amazing photography is possible.
*Young King Penguins. The British call them “Oakum Boys”because their coat looks like the oakum calking used on old ships.
*King Penguins communicating. If you just sit and listen, it is apparent that there is a definite sequence of calls from different groups in the colony.
*Kings coming ashore after surviving Leopard Seals lurking near the shore. Once in a while, a bloodied penguin emerges. He/she will not survive the next swim in the cold water since the insulating coat of feathers is damaged. We visitors learn not to interfere and let both life and death take its natural course.
At the Falkland Islands in 2007:
*A Gentoo Penguin with an egg. Skuas and Cara Cara (a raptor) are always present trying to steal eggs and chicks. The pressure on the parents is enormous.
*Another Gentoo with two chicks. One chick will probably not survive.
*Rock Hopper penguins. We saw a Skua fly away with an egg as I took this footage.
*Giant Petrel courting. Huge birds who are clumsy on the ground and graceful in the air.
*A Black Browed Albatross nesting colony. These guys were very common off the stern of the ship when we were underway.
At Prion Island — South Georgia in 2004:
*A male Wandering Albatross making a nest. The female will arrive once the nest is completed. These gliding birds have an 11 foot wingspan and are known to circumnavigate the globe while rarely touching down. They keep going by catching fish during their long travels. They are common drowning victims of long line fishing boats as they try to snag the bait on the hook. A dead adult Wandering Albatross means both he/she and the chick are dead because the adult can not then come back to feed the chick.
*A Wandering Albatross juvenile learning to fly. These huge juveniles take a year to gain strength for their maiden flight. Their parents feed them until the last few months at which time the kid must fare for him/her self and get to sea to feed on its own.