Our last day ashore in Patagonia, we took the Zodiacs to Karukinka National Reserve.
It is way back at the dead end of a fjord, and a colony of elephant seals comes there each springtime to have their pups.
We didn't have to go far to see them...they were very close to where we landed the Zodiacs.
Massive creatures and the adults are not the most attractive mammals in the sea, for sure.
But their pups sure are cute!
We learned that southern elephant seals are the largest seals in the world as well as being the deepest divers of all sea mammals (except for dolphins and whales). They can hold their breath for 1 1/2 hours and dive very deep to find their food sources of squid, large fish, rays, eels, and octopus.
They get their name from their proboscis that looks like a shortened elephant's trunk.
The seals were literally everywhere, looking like big gray rocks and blending in with the piles of driftwood on the beach.
Although extremely efficient and fast swimmers in the water, they are very awkward on land. Elephant seals live almost their entire lives in the ocean, except for the brief breeding seasons each year, during which they do not eat.
We did a short hike past the seals through a grove of trees to a nearby waterfall. That's my alpaca Kim, schlepping my gear and following the trail marker...
Another very beautiful spot in Chilean Patagonia! You can see our Zodiacs in the water (look for the orange parkas!) shuttling people to and from Karunkinka.
We witnessed an interesting little confrontation between a couple of feuding seals...
After a lot of roaring and some chest-bumping, the two settled down side by side for a nap.
Across the beach was a group of Andean condors on a rock...
A female and a male...no one ever claimed they were beautiful birds, but there's no denying they are HUGE!
Our bird-nerd guide Javier noticed me photographing this rufous-collared sparrow, and he helped me see a couple more cool birds in the nearby bushes.
Thorn-tailed rayadito (what a name!)...
Javier told me this bird was a white-crested elaenia...what a pretty one with that crown on its head!
This is some sort of petrel, an ocean bird...we would be seeing LOTS of petrels in the coming days...
Javier and Kim, walking back toward the Zodiac landing...
Back on the ship that afternoon, people were in a partying mood! After several days of cold, drizzly weather, the sun was out and the temperatures were in the 50s. Our head chef Sarah (at the grill) and the ship hotel manager Andre (white shirt) were serving hot dogs on the Explorer's rear deck.
Eduardo was even dancing!
This is Tua, one of our naturalists, who is Polynesian. This whole cold Antarctica thing was a little out of his norm...
He is an incredibly talented ocean navigator, using only the stars, sun/moon, and weather to sail. He told about a 2-year journey he led on traditional Polynesian wooden sailboats from the Cook Islands in the South Pacific all the way to San Francisco, then south to near where we were, then back to the Cook Islands...all without any type of modern navigational tools or technology. His crew caught fish to feed themselves that whole time. Wow.
This is Lucho, the head National Geographic guy on our trip...our Expedition Leader. He was the decision-maker and basically in charge of everything except the ship itself, but worked closely with the captain and crew. He wore his mask religiously (per Nat Geo rules), but I did catch him without it between bites of his hotdog.
A great ending to a fantastic day!
...the elephant seals of Karukinka.