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Bird Island, South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands
I work as a Zoological Field Assistant, and am the 2009 Winter Base Commander, at Bird Island Research Station, one of the British Antarctic Survey's five research bases in Antarctica. The main remit of my job is seal fieldwork as part of BAS' Long Term Monitoring and Survey programme. Science has been carried out on Bird Island since 1958. I work with Antarctic fur seals and leopard seals, as well as assisting with the seabird fieldwork programme. Contact me on: ewanedwards at gmail dot com

Thursday, 20 March 2008

20.03.2008 - Wendy the fur seal

Fur seals are aggressive animals. During the breeding season, they put several routes around the island (namely along the beaches) out of action, because entering into the territories of breeding males is very dangerous, and in these numbers, it would be practically impossible. We carry sticks at all times during the summer months, not as a weapon, but more for our own protection. Banging on the ground with the stick (known as a bodger) or just tickling the seal's whiskers is often enough to get them to retreat.

There are around three million fur seals worldwide, 95% of them on South Georgia, and around sixty thousand of them return to Bird Island to breed. They are all angry and aggressive - all except for one. One exception amongst the crowds of seals that either run in fear, or stand their ground, growling and threatening, perhaps even chasing you.

This one seal has been coming back to Bird Island for around eight years now, and is known to Bird Islanders as Wendy. Although she cannot be trusted fully, Wendy is friendly and almost tame. She is an adult female fur seal. She chases away other seals, as if to defend her human friends. She doesn't bite, although will latch on to clothing to prevent you leaving her! She loves having her tummy scratched and will even let you play with her ears.

She appears not to have had a pup for several years now, possibly due to her complete madness! But she does seem in good health, with a lovely fur coat and no awful injuries. Meeting Wendy is quite surreal, and it takes some adjusting after leaving her, to remember that not all fur seals are as friendly as her.

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