Last night marked the end of a long weekend here – yes, it’s Peat Cutting Monday; a bank holiday set aside in the Falklands to preserve the tradition of peat cutting despite being a little too early to cut peat. I don’t know either, but no-one’s going to complain about a bank holiday! We decided to get away to Sea Lion Island, taking advantage of their season-opening offer and some generous FIGAS flight vouchers we received as Wedding presents from our Falklands friends Rob, Karen, Regi and Pete. I LOVE the FIGAS flights, so even though Sea Lion is only about 35 minutes’ flight out, it’s still a great reminder of how much fun it is to take a weekend away here:
Obviously, like pretty much all of the outer islands here, Sea Lion is great for seeing the ubiquitous Falklands penguins (Gentoos, below, as well as numerous Magellanic and Rockhoppers).
Surely, you ask, if you wanted to see some penguins, you’d just nip along to Gypsy Cove 10 minutes’ drive down the road and watch them there? Exactly. Sea Lion Island is home to the Islands’ largest population of elephant seals, which, for those regular to the blog will remember, attracts some very smart Orca whales (who behaved for the BBC team in the link but didn’t put in an appearance this weekend despite being spotted the night before we arrived – argh). Still, the elephant seals have their own unique and unforgettable appeal. If not pretty in appearance, they have a certain majestic quality such that any animal of their size would possess. Add to that the hilarious mannerisms of the species (spending a substantially large amount of the day rotating between sleeping, burping, farting and being herded into harems by the males) and you have a bizarrely addictive way to pass the time. These impressive beasts are worth knowing about: weighing in up to 11,000lbs, able to dive for 2 hours at a time and to depths of over a mile deep (!!!) they are quite something. The males herd the (significantly smaller!) females into harems and guard them until mating season begins so there’s always some interesting behaviour to observe when the males get too close to one another. As you can see, they are quite unaffected by weather, people, cold tides coming in or, indeed, the passing of time:
Currently, the females have returned to give birth (on the same beaches they were born on) so that added a very sweet dynamic to the whole weekend, with new-born pups multiplying each day.
That being said, of course, nature is both beautiful and cruel and the life cycles of other beings rely on the annual failure of some of the attempts to rear new pups. Despite our best attempts to dig out one pup that had been buried by heavy sand, it was just one of many to die and find itself prey to the scavenging Striated Caracaras, Giant Petrels, gulls and Turkey Vultures. Apologies for the graphic nature of some of the pictures but it holds a morbid curiosity to some. Similarly, the birds were also quick to take full advantage of the other…’byproducts’ of the birthing season and, as you can see, the placenta from one birth didn’t last long in the flock:
Observing the seals this time of year gives an insight into their unique character, but there is a lot more to be known about them. The Elephant Seal Research Group (who can be found and are worth following on Facebook) have been studying the population on Sea Lion for years (hence the names dyed onto most of them) and can offer an excellent understanding into individuals as well as trends in the group behaviour. There are other populations and studies going on, but it’s always more interesting when you’ve seen the individuals involved.
Of course, the mixture of the wildlife, weather conditions and plant life of the island attracts far more than the seals and scavengers and first light made for a stunning walk on our final morning: