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15 March, 2000

Bonaparte Point

Question 25: What do leopard seals eat?

14 March, continued...

After that exciting afternoon dive everyone was very tired when we got back to station, but it was such a beautiful day (those don't happen frequently here) that most of us went right back outside. Bruce and I took our cameras over to Bonaparte Point via the trolley that crosses Hero Inlet. Since seabird nesting time is past, the upper part of the peninsula is open, and we could get to the point by hiking up and around on the glacier. From 1 October to 1 March that part of the peninsula is closed, and the only way across is the trolley.

Currently the problem is avoiding fur seals which can charge and bite if you get too close. You can also get trampled by them if you get between them and the water when they feel threatened. Fur seals are showing up in larger numbers every day and seem to prefer the upper part of Bonaparte Point. There are others scattered around the rest of the point, but in just one area of the upper point I counted 25 fur seals. So we took the trolley.

One person at a time sits on the platform, and both people pull on the attached rope to drag it across to the other side of Hero Inlet. It took 10-15 minutes for each of us to get across. Dangling 20 ft above the water made me very glad that Leopard seals can't jump that high! As with any activity here where people could fall into the water, we are required to wear float coats with beaver tail attached. These bright orange coats with reflective tape have foam inside and are made to stay on in the water as well as keep your head above water. For safety we also sign out on the station board and take a radio. We radio when we start to cross the Inlet and when we finish.

Once on the other side, I was surprised at the variety of living organisms here as compared to the Gamage side. Without the station, this is probably what Gamage point would look like as well. It is amazing to see both the huge difference the station makes and the small separation that the animals and plants need from the station before they appear unaffected by it. There were three Weddell seals hauled out below us where we got off the trolley and several much smaller fur seals chasing around the edges of the rocks in and out of the water. Other fur seals were dispersed across the island, mostly laid out resting, a few growling and trying to impress others that had wandered into their space. Climbing over rocks we came upon several suddenly and much closer than we wanted. Some growled and snarled, sounding like a medium-sized terrier; others made squeaky exhalation noises that were more like yelps.

To add to the complexity of the "walk", the whole time we were clambering over rocks trying to carefully avoid fur seal personal space while not cutting them off from the water, we had to have one hand holding a glove over our head. The seabirds here (mostly Brown Skuas) may not be actively nesting anymore, but they certainly feel protective about their rocks. There were probably thirty in the area--perched on rocks, displaying, flying through the air, or dive bombing our heads. Most of them call while they are on an attack run, so we could hear in which direction to turn and wave the glove. None of them actually made contact but they do come impressively close. The glove (anything will work) gives them an alternate target since they usually aim for the highest spot.

On the far side of Bonaparte we found a pair of Adelie penguins hanging out on the shore line. There was also the first terrestrial (land) greenery I have seen in Antarctica. Green mosses, colorful lichens and a type of grass were growing on and amongst the rocks. We made our way to the high point in the area and had a wonderful view down the Antarctic Penninsula to the south and Anvers Island, Palmer station, Marr Glacier and rocky islands to the north. A wonderful day!!!

Answer 24: Sea stars belong to the Phylum Echinodermata in Kingdom Animalia.

Skuas displaying.

Attacking skua.

Palmer station.

Pair of Adelie Penguins.

Weddell Seals hauled out on Bonaparte Point with a Southern Fur Seal behind.

Growling fur seal.

Bruce giving a skua an alternate target.

The trolley to Bonaparte Point.

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