Living Art / 05 March, 2017
Bed of Seals
Crabeater Seals | An ice-dependent species
A small ice floe in the Errera Channel at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula provides barely enough room for a group of crabeater seals to rest, and the cracks are starting to show. It’s the end of summer in the Antarctic, and so sea ice here is in short supply. Crabeater seals are widespread in Antarctica and possibly the most abundant of all seals anywhere. But they are also dependent on sea ice, for resting, breeding, avoiding predators such as killer whales and leopard seals, and accessing feeding areas. Despite their name, crabeaters are adapted to feed almost exclusively on Antarctic krill, with interlocking, finely lobed teeth that sieve krill from the water. And krill itself is also dependent on sea ice, which provides winter shelter and food (algae). So any decline in sea ice will have a knock-on effect on such specialist krill predators, and overfishing of Antarctic krill will also affect them. For the moment, there is no evidence of any decline in crabeaters, though in the vastness of their pack-ice habitat, it is almost impossible to estimate their numbers. Cristobal waited until the sea was relatively calm before launching his drone from a rubber dinghy in the channel beside the floe. The batteries would not last long in the cold, so he flew it ‘high and smoothly… using low-noise propellers to avoid disturbing the seals’. It portrayed the group of adults, dozing, with a spattering of krill-coloured seal excrement symbolizing their dependence on Antarctica’s keystone species.
First Prize Winner. Animals in their Environment category. WPY 2018 - Wildlife Photographer of the Year.