Most Frightening Wildlife Experience
Stromness Harbour, South Georgia, British Sub-Antarctic territory - 2011
The day starts early and I set off with a small group on a long hike to the waterfall at the back of a long valley. It seemed an idyllic setting of a long flat valley with a serpentine streambed passing down through it to the beach, and periodic hillocks with picturesquely positioned herds of reindeer atop them. Pausing for many photos of this beautific setting, the group soon gets stretched out, with most of the others far ahead of all but three of us stragglers.
Soon we come across an extremely aggressive fur seal: large, sharp toothed and bloody mouthed, who refused to be dissuaded from his/her mission to attack us. Going after each of us successively, neither sticks, nor shouting nor clanging rocks in front of its nose would do any good. We ended up spending the next 20 minutes trying to fend it off, with our calls for help to the rest of our hiking party far ahead, going totally unheeded.
I was the last to have to deal with this beast individually. It chased me across the stream twice, came to within 6 inches of me and constantly lunged forward so many times that I though sure I would be bitten. Holding hands above my head, clanging rocks together, shouting, nothing would stop it. I even got blisters on my hands from so much rock banging. Every step backward was met with a further lunge forward from it to match me. It was the most frightening moment in my life.
It continued for so long that I was consciously thinking, well, I'm going to be bitten, but what do I do then? Continue to let it bite me? Run? Fight back, what? (We'd been told previously that seals can "run" up to 35 miles a hour!) Until then, I couldn't imagine being in such a hopeless situation. I was extremely lucky this time. Eventually it seemed to be a bit distracted by the others and I was able to inch backwards bit by bit.
I spent the rest of the hike to the waterfall at the end of the valley in a state of shock. Such a narrow escape. There was something seriously wrong with this seal. We learned later that the same seal had attacked another group and cornered them with two other “seal accomplices” for 15 minutes. One person fell down and had their jacket's hood torn off by the seal; again with none of the usual abatement treatments working. It was from this point that the seals ceased to become "cute" and I became extremely wary of all future encounters. I can only imagine how bad it would be a few weeks later, when the next trip comes through this locale, and these same seals are so much bigger, and even more aggressive.