This is my first winter down south and the experience of seeing an elephant seal within a few minutes of stepping foot on Macca was fantastic. On the short walk to the station I spied them lazing around by the side of the road, snoozing away in tussocks and gathered in herds on the beach. I couldn’t believe that I was finally here surrounded by such incredible wildlife and laughed away to myself on the walk from landing beach to the mess where I met Nick, the 2017 chef who I was taking over from.
Next morning was the start of another hectic resupply and I was thrown straight into the deep end to cook for the hungry hordes of expeditioners, boaties and scientists. Macca’s kitchen and mess is one of many buildings huddled together on the isthmus, and though it does look somewhat rustic on the outside, it is warm and charming inside with a big picture window looking up towards the dreaded Doctors Track.
A few days after arriving I was to meet my first Antarctic fur seal. Just outside the kitchen storeroom a young mother and pup decided that the tussocks were a perfect place to feed and generally do what seals seem to do best, sleep. I was about to learn very quickly that fur seals aren’t quite as laid back as their much larger relation, the ele seal. Though impossibly cute with a pale silvery belly and sleek brown fur they are very cantankerous and one of the most agile of all the seals, very quick on their flippers, so to speak. Any unsuspecting person walking past was hurried on their way with a growl and occasionally chased up the path.
Every day mum would disappear for a while to go and find food for herself, leaving the pup asleep in the tussock. When the baby seal woke up hungry it would start calling to her with an incessant squeaking and squawking until Mum came back. They became part of my early introduction to the Macca life and several times a day I would put my head outside the door, keeping my distance of course, to say hello and like a lurking paparazzi take a candid shot of seal life.
After a few weeks mum and pup disappeared and we all started settling into our life and work routines on the island, until one morning at 5 am myself and everyone else sleeping in Cumpstons Cottage were awoken by the insistent squeaking of a young seal looking for its mother.
I started calling the pup Squeakie early in our relationship, not just because of the sound it made but because it reminded me of my cat back home who always squeaks before she meows and is also brown and cute, but much more amenable to a pat on the tummy than Macca Squeakie!
Eventually Mum and Squeakie stopped making an appearance around station until early this week when a young female Antarctic fur seal showed up early in the morning sleeping in her favourite spot in front of Cumpstons Cottage. The pup had grown up and was now on her own but still calling the tussock home. Hopefully over the year we are here there will still be the occasional shout of SQUEAKIE’S BACK!