In my final week of work, my colleague Michaela said to write a blog on the difference between seals and sealions. Luckily, one of the first lectures on board the Antarctic cruise was this, and then, during the trip, I was lucky enough to see five species of seal in the Antarctic.
Essentially – true seals are earless and have more streamlined bodies for the water. Their rear flippers are more developed allowing them to dive deeper in the water. Consequently, when we saw numerous true seals in Antarctica, if they were on land, they generally look asleep as they don’t move too far. However, if we saw them in the water, you realise how fast they can move and how long they dive for.
Leopard Seal – beautiful but docile looking on the ice, these seals are huge and can swim extremely fast in the water. We were lucky enough to see them swimming and hunting and when one of these amazing creatures is hovering below your kayak, you daren’t put your finger in the water!
Elephant Seal – the largest of all true seals, we only saw one small female on our first day in the South Shetland Islands – though she was still pretty big. One day I hope to get to South Georgia to see the large males as the lecture about these seals was fascinating.
Crabeater Seal – the most common of the Antarctic seals the crabeaters were great fun to watch swimming around the icebergs in a playful fashion.
Weddell Seal – commonly mistaken as rocks, whenever we came across one of these fat seals I was in a kayak and they were often looking the other way. One one I occasion I thought the seal must have been dead until it moved a flipper – but with the Weddell’s, you can clearly see that they are on rocks to rest.
On the other hand, eared seals – including sealions and the fur seals of Antarctica have small ears, but more distinctly, they have stronger front flippers which they use to swim, and on land, they can rotate these and walk on land – and boy can they move fast!
Fur Seal – On several occasions we came across a fur seal or two, but the most prominent occurrence was in Whaler’s Bay in Deception Island on the last day. This bay was stunning with the black volcanic rock and white snow along with a number of derelict buildings from the whaling days. Beautiful photos – until you approached a hut a bit too close, and the fur seals chased you down to the beach. Whilst their movement looks a little clumsy – they could move fast, and definitely didn’t seem to like us much on their turf. But still managed to get a few nice pictures from a distance.
Next stop will be the Galapagos to see the sealions – I wonder if we will be told the same distinguishing features…