January 6, 2013 – Sea Lion Island, Bleaker Island
Posted on January 7th, 2013
Temperature: 56° F
Wind speed: 25-40 knots
Cloud cover: 80%
Under a glorious sunrise, ‘Le Boreal’ dropped anchor just outside the kelp forest ringing Sea Lion Island. The sound of bellowing elephant seals reverberated from the beach, while blue-eyed shags flew past the ship as they traveled back and forth to their nesting sites on the island. We went ashore and landed on a gorgeous white sand beach strewn with kelp that had washed up during storms.
We stood in awe at the scene around us. Oystercatchers, plovers and sandpipers were foraging amidst the beach wrack, seemingly unaware of our presence. The tussacbird, a small and fearless brown bird, hopped as comfortably around the tufts of vegetation behind the beach as it did next to the huge elephant seals hauled out on the sand. Some were so fearless that they came over and pecked at our boots!
Southern elephant seals are the largest seals in the world, and 95% of the Falkland population can be found on Sea Lion Island. They were huddled together in groups, usually resting but occasionally rearing up and sparring with one of their neighbors. The breeding season for the elephant seals is over by December, but many individuals linger on the beaches for months both to undergo the annual molt of their fur and to socialize.
Some of us headed over to a stretch of coast where southern sea lions breed, and were witness to a few pups being born right before our eyes! Others headed over to the gentoo penguin colony, where the chicks were huge and plentiful. The whole island was a magical place, and we soaked up every aspect of it.
Back on ‘Le Boreal’ for lunch, we kept our eyes out the window for wildlife while Captain Etienne Garcia moved the ship over to the anchorage for our afternoon landing at Bleaker Island.
The spectacular coastline of Bleaker Island is a mix of gorgeous sandy beaches, and low rocky headlands. From the landing, we hiked across beautiful green moorlands to arrive at a rocky ledge used by nesting rockhopper penguins. It was amazing to watch these penguins exit the water on such a rough and exposed stretch of rocky coast and then, one hop at time, ascend the steep, slippery rock face to the top.
We also walked over to a very large blue-eyed shag colony in the middle of a grassy meadow. Several thousand pairs of cormorants were perched upon their columnar nests, busily regurgitating food for their hungry chicks, which at this point in the season were nearly the same size as the adults. An array of predators ranging from skuas to dolphin gulls flew over the colony or perched on its outskirts, awaiting any opportunity to secure their next meal.
We walked back across the island to the landing, from where we enjoyed an exhilarating ride amidst wind and waves back to the ship. Once evening rolled around, we gathered for our first recap with the Expedition Team, during which we heard from historian Bob Burton about tussac grass, from geologist Kitty Coley about the rocks of the Falklands, and from naturalist and Falkland Island resident Pete Clement about growing up in the Falklands.
After dinner, some of us gathered for a cocktail in the Observation Bar, where stories of the day’s events intertwined with the sounds of laughter and music provided by the ship’s musicians.
– Rich Pagen, Naturalist