Researchers Caught in Seal Stampede

“Seal colonies are particularly gross. Rest assured many, many generations of seals have been pooping and dying underfoot, so we’re basically climbing over dead seal carcasses,” Eric Berkenpas explains while embarking on the debacle that is trying to catch fur seals.

As Director of National Geographic’s remote imaging program, Berkenpas is on the remote Kanowna Island off the southern tip of Australia on a mission to attach cameras to the animals’ backs. The team hopes that the cameras will later be collected and the footage captured by them will reveal hidden details of the fur seals’ lives.

But the challenges begin early, in just getting to the island. “There’s no dock—it’s basically a vertical cliff face—and then we had to carry all our gear including all the freshwater a thousand feet up to the top of the island,” he says. All in a day’s work.

Once on the island, the team approaches a massive seal colony and brandishes giant butterfly nets to try and catch the daunting creatures. “What happens when you go after seals is they instinctively head towards the ocean. That’s where they’re safest … I saw this pile of seals coming down the mountain towards me: angry seals, wanting to get to the ocean. They look cute from a distance but they have big sharp teeth and they sound really mean.”

Also putting himself between the seals and the ocean is expedition leader and marine biologist, Dr. John Arnould. Based on the Crittercam footage and GPS data, Arnould believes that underwater gas pipelines are attracting marine life and that the seals follow these pipelines for foraging and navigation purposes. The footage also contains some other revelations, says Berkenpas. “The scientists knew the seals were eating life on the bottom of the sea. But an interesting thing we’d noticed was that the —> Read More