A leopard seal follows the zodiac in Pleneau Bay. Lying to the west of Lemaire Channel, Pleneau Island is surrounded by a spectacular field of grounded icebergs.
Antarctica – Been There

Who knows who you'll meet diving under an iceberg?

Photo by Rene Lipmann

Antarctica – Been There Who knows who you'll meet diving under an iceberg?

“Pleneau Bay is also known as the iceberg graveyard!” shouts Jonas Sundquist over the engine noise. I have signed up for a polar diving specialty course, and Jonas is our instructor.

Eline Feenstra
Eline Feenstra Geologist

The water is still and reflects mirror images of the icy statues that fill the bay. Leopard seals enjoy the sun by lying on the ice floes. They tilt their heads to acknowledge our company. Jonas brings the dinghy to a stop when we approach a table-shaped iceberg. “The most important thing is to know whether the iceberg is grounded or not,” he says. He checks this by measuring the depth with a small yellow instrument. An iceberg is more likely to be grounded when the water is shallow. “That’s what you want,” he continues. “When an iceberg floats you should estimate the likelihood of it rolling over – something you don’t want to happen while diving next to it! If the iceberg has rolled over recently, the ice on top has a pattern of dimples affected by the seawater. Signs of snow on top mean it hasn’t rolled over recently. Best to avoid those mountains.”

By the time we find a suitable iceberg, I am ready to start the adventure. I am little bit nervous: this time our dive site is moving too. Underwater we enter a totally different realm. The icy blue colors mesmerize me. The skin of the iceberg feels soft. Just below the waterline I see the dimples Jonas told us about. Slowly they fade into deepening ridges that travel all the way down, as far as I can see. Their black shades eventually mix with the dark blue water. It looks spooky. I look at my computer – the temperature display says minus two degrees celsius! That is cold. I become aware of my increased breathing rate and I struggle to get horizontal. What is going on? It feels like the iceberg is slowly pulling me down into the icy blue. I guess the ice really does mesmerize.

Then, out of nowhere, a leopard seal suddenly appears. I push myself back into the iceberg, grabbing my dive partner’s hand. The seal is so fast that every approach comes by surprise. “Close your eyes to relax in such situations,” Peter had told me. I close my eyes and immediately my heart rate drops. Still shut, I realize I want to be here and nowhere else. It works. I open my eyes and the seal is right in front of me.

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Leopard seals feed on warm-blooded animals but are merely curious with divers, swimming up to have a good look. However, one snorkeling scientist was dragged underwater to her death on 2003 – the first known human fatality from a leopard seal. Photo by Goran Ehlme / Waterproof Expeditions

Goran Ehlme

Goran Ehlme

NIKON D2X

Agency
Waterproof Expeditions
Aperture
ƒ/5.6
Exposure
1/80
ISO
100
Focal
12 mm

Leopard seals feed on warm-blooded animals but are merely curious with divers, swimming up to have a good look. However, one snorkeling scientist was dragged underwater to her death on 2003 – the first known human fatality from a leopard seal.

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