Sea Lion Island is the southernmost settlement in the Falkland Islands. We spent 4 nights here at the lodge which is run by an interesting and friendly guy named Micky. Alas, we had been spoiled at Volunteer Point and Saunders Island where we pretty much had all the wild life to ourselves. That was no longer the case at Sea Lion Island since we had fellow guests and scientists about but no matter, the island was plenty big enough to get away from it all. Even though we were here during the beginning of tourist season, the wild life didn’t know that. The bull elephant seals had already converged on the island by mid September with the female cows arriving a week later. The alpha males had already fought for dominance and mating rights with the cows. About 500 pups are born annually on Sea Lion Island each October, so by the time we arrived in mid November, it was the perfect time to see the bulls, cows and newborn pups consolidated into various harems on the beach. It was fascinating to learn that because the bulls are constantly facing off competitors to defend their harems, they get very little sleep and exert a ton of energy, thus losing up to 40% of their total body weight in just a few weeks! The cows aren’t spared the weight loss either – from the time they arrive to give birth and nurse their pups (a mere 3 weeks before the pups are weaned and abandoned to fend for themselves), they too lose a whopping 30 to 40% of their weight as well. Needless to say, we spent hours observing elephant seals interacting and were completely mesmerized by their behavior. However, Sea Lion Island has more than just elephant seals. There are sea lions, penguins (gentoo, rockhopper, and a solitary king who decided to crash the gentoo colony), king cormorants, and a myriad of bird life. Back at the lodge, we ate very well with hot meals for breakfast and dinner, and a sack lunch to go. Getting to know our fellow guests over meals was very interesting and our ensuite room was more than comfortable. Our 4 nights here on Sea Lion Island flew by!
Sea Lion Lodge: Very nice lodge that can accommodate large groups of people. It is definitely on the high end of places to stay in the Falklands with a price tag to boot. But all meals are included in the rate, and the lodging itself feels very welcoming with tastefully decorated rooms, a comfortable lounge, and top notch food. This is the southernmost section of the Falkland Islands, and it is famous for its elephant seal population and orca sightings. We were here during peak orca time, as they are feeding on the elephant seal pups who are learning to swim. The elephant seals here are plentiful, with nearly a dozen bulls showing their battle scars from competing to mate with the females. The pups are surprisingly cute, but they grow up quickly to become obese and ugly…what a transformation! The lodge is located right next to the air strip, and the main sights are all within easy walking distance. No significant hills to climb on this flat island, although there is a king cormorant and rockhopper penguin colony located about 4 km away near the other end of the island.
12 Nov: From Stanley airport, we set off at 12:30 pm and arrived to Sea Lion island about 45 minutes later. Smooth flight and we were glad that the early morning fog didn’t hinder our flight plans. At Sea Lion lodge landing strip, we were greeted by Micky who pointed us in the direction of the lodge. After getting settled in with a cup of tea, we met the other guests who had just arrived and Micky gave us a quick overview of the highlights of the island. Apparently two pods of orcas have been hanging around the island, devouring infant elephant seals who dare to venture into the water. There was even a kill this morning at the nearby “orca pool” at 5:30 so that boded well for us…fingers crossed we will get lucky enough to see the hunt in action, even though we don’t really want an elephant seal pup to die because they really are very cute. We had a quick ham and cheese sandwich for lunch before heading directly to the beach to check out the elephant seals. We remembered them from South Georgia island but they were much, much bigger than we thought. Absolutely massive monstrosities, especially the obese bulls. A team of 4 scientists were on the beach capturing, weighing and tagging the pups. Apparently the pups are only 4 weeks old and they already weigh an incredible 150 – 180 KG each! The mothers will be abandoning their pups soon and leaving them to fend for themselves, and the pups are now learning how to swim, hence the orcas patrolling the waters nearby. Fascinating stuff. We watched as the bulls jealously guarded their harems and bullied off other stray bulls. Once a bull woke from its siesta, it would exert a ton of energy chasing all the females in its harem to mate with. The females would bellow and scatter in fear, but the bull would always end up catching one and having his way with her. Needless to say we spent hours watching and observing this behavior, and wandered down the beach from one end to another. Some scientists were about monitoring and recording the elephant seals behavior. A flock of caracaras and petrels were devouring a dead elephant seal down the far side of the beach. The caracaras would wait for the petrel to dig out and fling meat, and then they would swoop around picking up scraps. Intelligent birds! We walked around the lake and took photos of the bird life and then cut through the tussock towards the lodge. Along the way, we stumbled upon two snipes…super long beak on that bird! Over dinner, we chatted with Jude and Andrew from Sydney, Australia. Super nice couple and we enjoyed their company. They are on a quest to spot all 18 different penguins from all around the world. Apparently, they just came from a 2 week cruise to Antarctica where they spent 3 full days with the emperor penguins! They have seen 17 of 18 penguins and now have but 1 left to track down. Cheesecake for dessert was divine but very rich and way too much. Very easy to get fat here at Sea Lion Lodge where everything is to excess. The sunset tonight was deep pinks and reds…best one of the trip thus far. The plan is to get up early tomorrow so see if we get lucky with an orca kill. Fingers crossed!
13 Nov: Alarm at 4:30 am and out the door shortly thereafter to watch sunrise over the beach. The orcas were out and about early this morning, circling around the pool where elephant seal pups were playing and swimming. We noticed that a couple of seals hadn’t gotten the word that the orcas were hunting and they were still blissfully unaware, swimming mere feet away from the orcas. One of them was about to have a life changing experience when the orcas finally decided to play “catch and release” with the seal. They would grasp the seal in their mouth and then release it, only to catch it again. Almost like they were teaching the young orcas how to hunt. There were several pods of orcas…Mickey had mentioned a pod of 2 (mother and calf), and a pod of 6 males (who would wait for the females to do all the work and then swoop in to enjoy the fruits of their labor). We saw nearly a dozen orcas cruising around. Most were a bit too far off to photograph, but one male orca had a massive dorsal fin that stuck out nearly 2 meters, resembling a sail. He was instantly recognizable even from a distance, and appeared to be the most senior and biggest orca in the water. We hung out from 5 to 7:45 and then called it quits to have breakfast and discuss our sightings. For lunch we asked for a to go lunch sack of ham and cheese sandwiches. Our morning adventure was to wander the other beach and check out the marine life there. More of the same on the bigger, main elephant seal beach so we got a bit bored and decided to walk around the pond. Quite a few juvenile elephant seals lounging around so we decided to take some photos. One especially inquisitive elephant seal came right up to Becky and sniffed her boots and hopped up onto her leg before deciding she would not make a good snuggle buddy! Very cute behavior but most of the pups have been tagged by the scientists and are now leery of humans. Robby went back to the lodge to grab our sack lunches and we enjoyed our meal while watching the elephant seals. Since they were all snoozing in the sun, we decided to follow suit and had a nice 60 minute siesta with the elephant seals. Bliss! After waking up, we walked back down the main beach and were dismayed to see how lazy the elephant seals had gotten because of the sun today. They hardly budged from one spot, and even the normally super aggressive bulls were struggling to open their bloodshot eyes to determine if we were a threat or not every time we ventured near. Since there wasn’t much action, we decided to take a break back at the lodge until 5 pm. The two hours before dinner weren’t very busy either, and we were glad we woke up early since the elephant seals were most active from 5 – 7 am. For dinner, we were joined by 2 new British guests (Bob and Barbara) who had arrived separately. The Falklands is deservedly popular with the British and we were the only Americans amongst the rest of the guests who hailed from the UK and Australia. Starter for dinner was ceviche with cheese, followed by a massive cut of beef and rissoto, topped with a fruit platter for dessert. Way too much food and we left stuffed. Early to bed tonight since tomorrow will be another early day. Our plan is to hike to the rockhopper colony on the other side of the island.
14 Nov: Robby’s birthday! Alarm at 4:30 am revealed fog this morning so we quickly went back to bed. Got up at 6 am for a wander down the beach. Orcas were patrolling the beach but no activity by the orca pool. Suddenly at 7:30 am, we saw a flurry of activity from the predator birds that started flocking one area of the sea and we realized we had witnessed the aftermath of an orca kill. Not sure when the orca ate the seal but it must have been around that time. After breakfast, took a short siesta while waiting for our pack lunches to be prepared. At 10 am, we luckily caught a ride with Margaret and her husband Piers to the other end of the island where Micky dropped us off by the cormorant colony. It was cool to see an entire colony dedicated to the imperial cormorants. We watched as they played tug of war with each other as they were building their nests with long strands of kelp. Very funny! Took some GoPro video and also admired the amazing cliff formations along the coastline. It was as if someone had cut through the rock with a precision cutter…very cool to look at. From the cormorants, it was a 1 KM walk to the rockhopper colony. We spotted the lone macaroni penguin in the rockhopper colony. He was snoozing at first, but woke up to be a bully towards his neighbors while stealing their rocks to gift to his own partner. Other rockhoppers were doing the same thing, and we were fascinated by their thievery. A fantastic arch formation was nearby so of course we took some photos on it. Then the 4 KM trek back to the lodge, with a 1 KM detour to check out the sea lion cliffs (unfortunately no sea lions today). Back at the lodge, we warmed up with hot chocolate and chocolate cake, before a brief siesta. Went down to the beach for the hour before dinner and got to watch high stakes drama unfold between 4 bull elephant seals by the beach. A rogue interloper swam the length of the beach to sneak his way between two snoozing bull elephant seals. Once they were aware of his presence (the members of their harems let them know with worrisome cries of fear), they built up the strength to battle him off. He slunk off after being challenged (he had already nearly lost an eye in an earlier battle), but now one of the challengers was in the neighboring bull’s territory. So another fight ensued, and we were caught in the thick of it. It was a bit scary not knowing the proper place to stand to avoid getting involved! Dinner was a pea soup, fish with potatoes au gratin, followed by a sumptuously rich carrot cake with berry dressing. Had a beautiful sunset with lots of pinks and reds. Robby was lucky to spend his birthday in such a wilderness paradise!
15 Nov: Up at 4:30 am and straight down to the beach. The wind was quite strong, and we were debating whether or not we had made a wise choice getting up early today. A scientist was already on the beach observing the elephant seals. The wind caused choppy waters and not a single orca fin was in sight. Boo! We sat down behind one of the rock shelters for protection against the wind but to no avail, it was coming from the only uncovered side. After 15 minutes of zero activity, we decided to retreat back to our down comforter bed, meeting an optimistic Bob on his way out to the beach. Slept until breakfast and heard Bob’s account that the bull elephants were a bit active after we left, protecting their harem’s and territory. Said goodbye to Jude and Andrew who were on their way to Volunteer Point for a 2 night stay with Derek and Trudi. Set out for a 3 hour excursion on the beach observing the elephant seals’ behavior. Just fascinating to watch the exhausted bull elephants force themselves to expend the energy to protect their harem. No wonder they lose up to 40% of their weight over this 2 to 3 month period! Based on their bloody battle scars, it is easy to see why many of them do not return next year as the orcas have a good chance of making a tasty meal out of their exhausted and depleted bodies. The wind alternated between bitterly cold and surprisingly warm. We were back by noon for lunch in the room, followed by a siesta. Good thing too as it rained while we were napping. Up at 3 pm for cake and tea, followed by another 3 hours outside. Saw the lone king penguin in the gentoo colony, and spotted orcas cruising off the other side of the beach (calmer there due to the persistent wind today). Saw two young orcas surfing the waves, but by the time we ran down to the beach, they had cruised way on down to the other end…they were swimming fast and even had one of the scientists sprinting down the beach just to keep up with them! Watched a couple bull elephants protecting their harems, and saw the younger bull elephant seals trying their luck. They must keep trying and trying as they know the dominant bulls are getting exhausted with their efforts at keeping their harem protected. Loved hearing the bull elephant seals roaring like a lion. Tried to take video of it but not sure if we captured the sound because of the strong winds blowing. Made it back to the lodge with minutes to spare for dinner, which we enjoyed with the remaining guests at the lodge over talk about life in Stanley and travel around South America. Found out that our flight tomorrow is scheduled for 9:15 am…it currently looks like we’ll be catching the first one out of here in the morning. Not sure if Lookout Lodge will let us check in so early but we’ll see! Settled the bill with Micky (4 nights all inclusive for 1360 pounds).
16 Nov: The alarm didn’t go off this morning but we were still up by 5:30 am. Packed our gear and then head out to see what was going on at the beach. No orca activity and most of the females had disappeared overnight, leaving only depleted and weary bull elephants and pups on the beach. We stayed for an hour and then went back to the lodge for some warm beverages. Had breakfast at 8 am and then checked out of our room since our flight to Stanley was now scheduled for 9:25 am. It was a short 30 minute flight to Stanley airport, with fine views throughout the flight.