Seals from the sky

Helicopter recce flight departing Big Razorback camp.

Each season, we take two helicopter flights on a 'recce' seal mission to locate any seals in our study area that we can not find from the ground. These flights often reveal groups of seals or a mom with a pup in some hidden pocket amidst the glacial jumbles frozen in the sea ice. It's always a great flight (though sometimes turbulent) for seeing the extent and expanse of the study area and surrounds. I figured a post of aerial images might give you a different and interesting perspective of the Erebus Bay that the seals call home. Enjoy the flight!

Rounding Tent Island's southern point with pressure ridges 15+ feet tall forming where the sea ice is getting pushed up against the fast ice connected to the island. Note the smattering of seals on the right side of the photo. Locations of other seal colonies can be seen: Little Razorback (top left) and Big Razorback (top middle) in the near background and Turk's Head (behind Big Razorback) in the far background.

The northern end of Tent Island. Most of the colony is located on the right (west) side of the island. 

Inaccessible Island. The singles club. We don't find many moms and pups here; most of the seals that occupy this island during this time of year appear to be sub-adult or non-breeding seals. Some seals (black dots) can be seen here.

Cape Evans Wall, a popular spot for the fish scientists to put their fish huts (hut can be seen at the center of the photo below the triangle cliff of the glacier). The jumble of ice to the left leads up to Mt. Erebus, and Turk's Head (one of the seal colonies) can be seen in the far distance.

Flying along the terminus of Erebus's extensive glaciers where it meets the sea. Often the pressure of the glaciers create cracks in the sea ice that seals can use to get on top of the ice.

The glaciers pouring down from Erebus and into the sea sometimes form ice tongues, where the glacier runs aground underwater and prevents the glacier from breaking and floating away when the sea ice melts. Pressure from these ice tongues getting pushed into the sea ice creates cracks that seals often use. One such ice tongue is Tryggve Point. This is another colony that is typically occupied by non-breeding seals.

Looking straight down at a lone seal where the glaciers meet the sea. I like the aesthetic of this shot.

Another (unnamed) glacier tongue, but no seal cracks are formed on this one. This is looking back at Cape Evans (center) and Inaccessible Island (left).

Turk's Head; one of the larger seal colonies. This area always produces some pretty dramatic and extensive crack systems.

Looking up at Mt. Erebus at 12,500 feet. The chunks of ice here are as large as or larger than your house.

The Erebus Glacier Tongue is the largest glacier tongue in the region and can have seals hidden in it's giant lobes. Tent Island (far background) and Big Razorback (near background) in the upper right. View is looking west towards the Transantarctic Mountains.

Looking south along Hut Point Peninsula of Ross Island. Hutton Cliffs (the glacial wall below the rock) and Turtle Rock (out in the sea ice) colonies are the furthest south colonies of substantial size. Small colonies occur further south at Scott Base (at the very tip of the peninsula) and at White Island (the southernmost mammals in the world...see my previous post). Mount Discovery (ancient volcano), Black Island (above Turtle Rock). and the Transantarctic Mountains in the background. The high point on the peninsula is Castle Rock, a popular recreational hike and climb that can be made from McMurdo.


  1. Wow! Not very scientific but wow. Definitely get a sense of the expanse of the ice!


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