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The Ross seal

I might just wri­te one sen­tence this time: we have seen a Ross seal. But some more sen­ten­ces may be neces­sa­ry to explain why this comes pret­ty clo­se to a real jack­pot.

If you tra­vel to Spits­ber­gen, you will most likely want to see a polar bear. That is easy. Only tho­se who real­ly have done their home­work might say: I’d rather see an Ivo­ry gull or a Grey phalar­ope. That is a bit less easy.

This here is simi­lar. If you take a trip to Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, most likely you want to see pen­gu­ins. And of cour­se I don’t want to put down a love­ly encoun­ter with a curious Gen­too pen­gu­in, an expe­ri­ence that has made count­less visi­tors to the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la smi­le for more than just a short moment. Or the Alba­tross, about which Robert Cush­man Mur­phy said „I now belong to the hig­her cult of mor­tals, for I have seen the alba­tross“. That may be taking it just a litt­le bit too far, but an expo­sure to such an ama­zing crea­tu­re may actual­ly make you feel that way.

The rarest ani­mal in Ant­ar­c­ti­ca is the Ross seal. After dozens of trips down here through 14 years, inclu­ding the Ross Sea trip 2 years ago, I have now seen my first Ross seal today. And this includes of cour­se ever­y­bo­dy on board, also most of my col­le­agues, who all have count­less ant­ar­c­tic sea­sons behind them. I belie­ve that Don, our fearless expe­di­ti­on lea­der, came to Ant­ar­c­ti­ca for the first time with Maw­son. It is a while ago. And even he dou­bled his num­ber of Ross seal expe­ri­en­ces with that sight­ing.

A very rough esti­ma­te of the „glo­bal“ popu­la­ti­on is some­thing near 130,000. That is not much. That is, actual­ly, very litt­le, con­side­ring the immense are­as this popu­la­ti­on of a midd­le-sized city is spread over. Theo­re­ti­cal­ly, you can find them ever­y­whe­re around Ant­ar­c­ti­ca, even on the coast of the Ant­ar­c­tic Pen­in­su­la. But I don’t know anyo­ne who has ever actual­ly seen one the­re. The Ross sea, that sounds like the Ross seal, you will eit­her see it here or not at all. To find this tre­asu­red spe­ci­es, you will have to take this long, long trip down here. And when our Ross seal then final­ly slid past the ship on his ice floe, pro­ba­b­ly hap­py to be on his own again, ever­y­bo­dy had a wide smi­le and more than one men­tio­ned to me that this trip is now alre­a­dy a suc­cess. Well, of cour­se we are loo­king for­ward to more, wha­te­ver the next days will bring, but this is defi­ni­te­ly a very signi­fi­cant ent­ry in the log.

By the way, the sight­ing of both the first Emper­or pen­gu­in and the Ross seal have to be cre­di­ted to Nick, a sharp-eyed fel­low pas­sen­ger from the Net­her­lands. Well done! (I feel I should add that we gui­des were busy with the dry-run of the heli­c­op­ter ope­ra­ti­ons).


The Ross seal is the smal­lest of all ant­ar­c­tic seals, and quite pecu­li­ar with regards to its body shape with the unpro­por­tio­nal­ly strong neck and the stripes in on the same part of its body. It is easy to distin­gu­ish, as soon as you have got a reasonable view of it. And nobo­dy nee­ded bino­cu­lars any­mo­re when the ship was near her (his?) litt­le ice floe.

last modification: 2015-01-26 · copyright: Rolf Stange