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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Let Sleeping Seals Lie!

Air Date: Week of

Slumbering Weddell Seal (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

On an island off the coast of Antarctica, an enormous Weddell Seal with impressive battle scars appears to slumber – but half of his brain remains alert while the other half dozes. Living on Earth’s Resident Explorer Mark Seth Lender got as close as he dared, but finds the formidable seal disinclined to make friends.


CURWOOD: We take a trip now to the bottom of the world, to the seas around Antarctica. On a beach near the Antarctic Peninsula, our resident explorer Mark Seth Lender found a battle-hardened Weddell seal soothing his wounds on a patch of ice. Mark wanted to make friends. The seal? Not so much…

The threatening glance of the grumpy seal (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

LENDER: He is a veteran. He has scars. On the smooth belly fresh puncture marks scattered in the kelp-like pattern of his fur. And that long scrape across his face from the bridge of his cat-like nose all the way to the corner of his brow. He has been in single combat with his kind, more than once, and each a small war. He fights, not because he is on post, not because it is his patch, only for breeding rights. Among Weddell seals in this far southern part of the world, it is that time of year.

And there is all he has endured that does not show, and no scribbled History to inform you. He moves neither closer nor further away, and, for all you can tell, ignores you. Fast asleep. His breathing deep. Dead to the world.

But only…the half of him

There is the strange, the wakeful side of his brain, independent and complete. It seeks. It finds. And when he opens those eyes, so dark the pupil does not show, he does not need to turn his head.

An Antarctic blizzard approaches Astrolabe Island (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

The strange has already found you. Knows you.

By the air you breathe, the swallowing of your anxious throat, your heft and what and where by the “slip-slip-crunch!” beneath your feet on hard, packed snow. His stare, unwavering, reddened to rose madder by the deep-diving blood in his veins. And though he lies, perfectly still, his gaze implies no invitation, conveys instead a warning, loud and unmistakable:

A Weddell Seal swims among icebergs (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

“Don’t! Don’t come any closer than you already are or I will give you a taste of what the FIRST guy already got. And trust me. You won’t like that.”

CURWOOD: That’s our resident explorer Mark Seth Lender – and you’ll find his photos of this seal and more at our website, LOE dot ORG.



Learn more about the Weddell Seal

Mark Seth Lender’s website


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