Elephant seals 1 – 0 Humans

There are some unusual logistical challenges that we face in Antarctica. In a couple of days’ time our resupply vessel, the RRS James Clark Ross, is due to dock at Rothera and spend a hectic few days unloading a year’s supply of everything from new vehicles to toilet paper. This requires careful organisation and a fully functioning road-network around the base, to allow the JCBs to deliver their trailer-loads of goods to the right buildings.

It was unfortunate, therefore, that a large elephant seal chose this week to park itself on one of the main thoroughfares across the base, and call it home.

Elephant seal in road

A lone elephant seal makes itself at home on our nice warm bridge.

Elephant seals don’t go fishing very often, and this chap decided that the wooden bridge was so comfortable that he may as well declare it as his own and stay there for a few days. Anyone who approached was given the open-mouth treatment.

The open mouth treatment, which is surprisingly effective when backed up by half a tonne of seal.

The open mouth treatment, which is surprisingly effective when backed up by half a tonne of seal.

With the ship’s due-date creeping ever nearer, our base management put their heads together and came up with a plan. They would ‘encourage’ the seal off the bridge, then park an agricultural trailer on it (the bridge, not the seal) and surround it with fuel drums. That should be enough to prevent him from getting back on. When the ship arrived, we could just move the trailer and vehicles would be able to pass.

Elephant sseal in road.

Trailer surrounded by seals, with drums carefully butted out of the way.

It didn’t work. A series of loud clangs in the middle of the night turned out to be the sound of an outraged elephant seal encouraging his friends to throw the drums out of the way. Incidentally, the trailer turned out to create a nice warm windbreak.

The ship still hasn’t arrived, but the elephant seals seem to be multiplying. I’ll keep you posted.


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