seal rescue

My second to last day here. God I wish I was staying for a bit longer. Still, life must go on and there are things to do back at home. Today was an interesting one. A channel four film crew arrived to do some work on fish. But, more importantly for me, I went for a walk to Sooty Bluff and saw some seals. Lovely, noisy, farty mad giant Elephant seals and angry buy fey Fur seals that like to chase but not to bite, too often....Occasionally, though, there is chaos in the mad world of Fur seals. Five million of them live in the Southern Ocean, and 80 per cent of them on South Georgia. Theirs is a story of recovery as their population in the early 20th Century was down to less than 100 - yes - 100 individuals. Their fur is incredible - with four times the hair count per area of other seals - they are the original thick coated seal and the population paid a high price for it. Valued for their skins, they were literally killed in their millions - their pelts salted and then turned into clothing, mostly for the Chinese market. It was a terrible thing that happened here. That their numbers have increased is largely due to the lack of competition for food - mostly because there are fewer whales here. The fur seals eat the same food as most whales - namely Krill - a small shrimp like animal. As whale numbers here decreased because of that and the whale oil and meat industry, so the Fur seals had chance to recover. This is recent, however. Ten years ago there were few Fur seals around the base here. Now there are lots. Mostly they come and go without any incident - although they can be tetchy and the largest meals - some 300 kilos in weight can move far more quickly than we can run. They are majestic and impressive animals and yet it only takes a small amount of net from a trawler to kill them. Fur seals, you see, are playful. They twist and turn in the water, scratching themselves to remove parasites and to rub up against the stones in the shallow water as they moult which they do in the summer. They also get entangled in fishermen's nets. There are few nets here as there is little trawling. Most of the net in the water comes from old boats that have sunk, or from the weight nets that hold down the lines of lone lining trawlers - the weighted nets keep the lines deep in the pelagic zone where tooth fish are caught. Occasionally, nets break up and a fur seal gets trapped in a section. As time passes, the net grows into the animal's fur, and then its skin before finally subjecting the animal to a horrific death.
This morning, while walking I found two such entangled seals. Both female, they were perhaps only three or four years old. Both had the same blue-green net that I had seen on a seal last week. Luckily, this time the seals were near to our base and we stood a chance of helping them. This is easier said than done, but the scientists on base are experienced and expert at it. Having ran back to base to alert Alastair Wilson ( yes, a relative of Edward Wilson, Scott's right hand man), four of us headed out to find the seals. Thankfully the first was found easily, its head secured in a noose and the net cut off. One, maybe two, minutes later and the seal was free. Shocked, and scared, it sat panting by the shore before swimming off. The net, as rescued was tough and thick. Blood, fur and fat deposits covered it. A nasty sight. The second seal was not so lucky. It was much more badly entangled. As we approached, it fled into the water. We did not see it again, but will look again tomorrow.
It is a sobering thought that despite the efforts that the government takes here to manage the environment - and this is something that they take extreme care over - that not everything is in their control.
Tonight, we had a big fish cook up. James the base commander here was on cook but as this was my second to last night, I offered to make a big fish stew with all the animals we had collected on the way over here - Mackerel Ice fish, Patagonian Toothfish, Marbled Rock Cod and more besides - most don't have common names, so I won't bother to mention them. Suffice it is to say that it went down well and it was such a pleasure to feed a wonderful bunch of men and women again before I wander off back home. A big part of me wishes i was staying because it is rare to find such a good bunch of friends so easily. But, I will have the chance to return, I hope, if all goes well, and for that I am grateful. Sleep well, Gerard