Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Arctocephalus gazella to you, Water Dog to me

On Monday I was landing on nearby Jacob's Island when I heard a bit of a bark behind me. Knowing that only the smallest seals in the area, the Antarctic Fur Seals, bark, I was excited. Both common sense and the Antarctic Conservation Act prevents humans from getting too close to animals down here so I moved off a bit and landed further down the cove. After getting settled on land, I approached the young male from about 50 feet away and he sat for this nice photo shoot.

Fur seals like my friend here are distinguished by true seals by the presence of external ears and their ability to bring their rear flippers underneath their bodies to walk on all four limbs. They are most closely related to sea lions and are not-too-distant relatives to otters, bears, raccoons and dogs.

The trade in fur seal pelts was responsible for much of the exploration of the Southern Ocean and sub-Antarctic islands. Within 4 years of their discovery on the South Shetland Islands in 1819, the population there was decimated and by 1900 the species was feared to be extinct. Only one small colony is known to have survived, on Bird Island near South Georgia. Today there are at least 4 million Antarctic Fur Seals, 95% of whom live on South Georgia Island. They are pretty rare around Palmer but increasing as the area becomes ice-free. The males weigh about 450 lbs and live about 25 years, the females weigh about 150 lbs and live 35 years or more.

Just by noticing my presence, this fellow gets counted as pretty nervous by local standards. The e-seals generally won't lift their heads until you practically trip over them. However, after watching me for a few minutes, he settled back down and was still there, scratching his back against his rock, when we left a few hours later.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Game Time

I was asked, "what sports are popular at Palmer station ?". Well, now that the snow has cleared from the backyard, Frisbee golf is played by a few people. But far and away, the sport of choice is Kubb (pronounced "Koob"). Not familiar with it ? No surprise. The equipment required is really simple although the rules can be a little complex.

In essence, team members take turns throwing sticks at larger sticks. That might sound like its on the edge of safety already. An additional and important part of the game however is the energetic taunting and dancing mean to distract the opposing team at each throw. Depending of whose playing and how wound-up they are, it can get quite rowdy :)

Lore suggests that Koobs originated with the Vikings and that our lab manager learned it from some Norwegian deckhands on a passing ship.

I'll get some action video of it up sometime.

To start playing Kubb yourself, polish up your Swedish and blink ute this website: