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"This is soooo c-c-c-ooooollllll"

I think there is something wrong with me.  When it comes to wild animals and "experiencing" nature, I wasn't really born with that little warning bell that goes off inside your head to tell you that you are entering into a dangerous situation.

I want to touch every wild animal I can.  I have fed hippos, monkeys and giraffes, scrubbed rhinos, snorkeled with sea lions, giant manta rays and sharks, and been far too close to bison and bears in the wild for the comfort of my husband. I dream of doing a silverback gorilla trek someday, and I'm insanely jealous of people who have been able to pet lions and tigers. 

While the thought of getting an up-close experience with penguins was what excited me most about Antarctica, I ended up getting a far more thrilling wildlife encounter than I had bargained for!

In my last post, I mentioned our final day of kayaking where we were able to get right up next to humpback whales.  This was a really beautiful and peaceful experience, but it is not what I am referring to. 

As we were making our way through the bergy bits of Skorntorp Cove in Paradise Harbour, we came upon a leopard seal resting on an iceberg.
Spotted our first leopard seal of the trip in Skorntorp Cove!
Spotted our first leopard seal of the trip in Skorntorp Cove! (Erin Correia)

If you don't know about leopard seals, allow me to enlighten you.  1. They are HUGE, terrifyingly huge.  2. They are the most viscious predator in Antarctica.  If you haven't heard of their reputation before, just do a quick internet search on them and you'll see how cuddly and friendly they are not.

So anyway, we are sitting here, watching this giant predator watch us, and I comment to Dave "Wouldn't it be awesome if it got in the water with us right now".  I received a resounding "NO!" from the rest of the group, to which I replied "Humph". 

We continued along our way and started to get into a straight line to make our way through the ice.  Kevin, our guide, was at the front of the line and I (in a single kayak) was at the very back of the line.  The couple in the double kayak in front of me seemed to be having some trouble manueavouring through the ice, so I gave them more space and ended up about 10-15 feet back from the end of the line. 

All of a sudden, I hear a strange sound next to me "pfffht".  I look to my left, and see this starting back at me
Another picture of a leopard seal.
Another picture of a leopard seal. (Erin Correia)

Okay, not that exact picture, obviously, but pretty much that face being made just a couple of feet from mine on the head of a giant beast that is now chasing me.

I froze - what do you do in this situation?  We covered how to handle a rouge wave, or make a water evacuation...but not what to do if a giant leopard seal comes after you!  Do I yell for help, or will that make him angry?  Do I try to paddle away, or will he grab my paddle if it is in the water?  Do I hit him with my paddle to deter him? (I later learned - nothing - there is pretty much nothing you can do to stop a leopard seal from eating you if he wants to eat you...awesome)

The seal was longer than my kayak and had a Voldemort-ugly face full of sharp teeth.  He kept diving under my kayak and popping up on the other side, making the face at me over and over again. 

I decided to hold my paddle in the air (best not to give him something to grab) and started quiet screaming for the guide "K-k-keviiiiin!!".  The people in front of me finally noticed and turned around to see what was going on.  At this point, I was frozen in my boat, holding my paddle up and quietly muttering.  In my memory, I am sure I was swearing - but the couple in front of me said they turned back to see me holding up my paddle quietly yelling "This is sssoooo c-c-c-ooooollllll.  This is soooo c-c-c-ooooolllll!"

Word made it up to the guide who instantly radioed for our support zodiac to come back (he had backed off to let us enjoy the silence) and then yelled at the rest of the group to "raft up".  If we looked larger, maybe he would leave. 

And then, as quickly as it began, it was over.  By the time the rest of the group joined together, my large friend decided to leave me alone and swam off into the black depths of the icy water.

The zodiac driver said it was his favorite moment of the trip.  In all his years of guiding in Antarctica, he's never had an experience like that, or seen another kayaker have one. 

It was exhilirating, terrifying and all around awesome!!  And it is just one more reason why you MUST kayak if you visit Antarctica!!

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