This week at Mawson we take a look at some of the wildlife we have been seeing and catch up with what they are getting up to on the island.

Béche visitor

This week during some blustery weather out on Béchervaise Island, Matt and Lisa spotted an Antarctic fur seal sheltering in the lee of the island.

Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) are a rare occurrence at Mawson. They are more commonly found near their breeding colonies on the sub-Antarctic islands and the Antarctic Peninsula than along the East Antarctic coastline. Researchers estimate there are approximately 4 million fur seals in the Southern Ocean area, 95% breeding on the islands of South Georgia.

This fur seal, one of the family of ‘eared seals’ or otariids was probably a young non-breeding male. He appeared mildly curious when Matt came closer to take a photograph but then disappeared as quickly as he came. While Antarctic fur seals congregate during the breeding season, they disperse widely at sea and are usually solitary foragers.

Out for a takeaway

Since the fast ice broke up around Mawson we have been visited regularly by a pod of orcas (Orcinus orca). As far as we can make out there are several females with a range of offspring from very young up to nearly fully grown, plus one large impressive male with a huge dorsal fin.

Orcas are odontocetes or ‘toothed whales’. They are at the very top of the Antarctic food chain due to their formidable array of teeth and to their ability to hunt in packs or ‘pods’. Their tastes are known to include krill, squid, fish, penguins, seals and even the much larger baleen whales.

We suspect that this pod is here to check out the many young Weddell seals that have chosen this locality to haul out to moult and rest. Most are probably inexperienced with regard to these predators. Or they could be after the Adélie penguins, thousands of which are breeding in the area and foraging locally. Increasing numbers are coming ashore, along with a few well-fed emperor penguins, to moult around station. The penguins certainly shoot out of the water as if they have been catapulted if there is any sign of the orca pod approaching.

Rubbish collector

As part of their work programme Matt and Lisa, out on Béchervaise Island for the summer, collect any rubbish they come across.

Some of it is harder to deal with than others. With no mechanical means to transport larger items back to the huts on the island, Matt was forced to resort to manpower.