Psychedelic Weddell Seals

A clip from Werner Herzog's Encounters At The End Of The Earth:

Here's what they look like:


Richard warms up:


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I saw the whole video on the lovely big TV at the Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP) in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, in August. I had just gotten back to PCSP, the logistics base for all kinds of High Arctic work, after 2 months living in a tent doing soil research at a polar oasis on Ellesmere Island. The entire show is fantastic, with the seal sounds merely the most impressive audio on the show; there are plenty of other mind-blowing moments, and the visuals are great, too.

Thanks for reminding me of this, it brings back other very pleasant memories, too.

Funny you should use the word psychedelic in describing the sounds. I was fortunate to work down on the ice years ago and got to go down into the observation bell to observe the seals under the ice in early spring before the water became a little more cloudy. There were the seals, suspended in what seemed to be mid air because the water is so unbelievably clear, and then out of nowhere a flash would appear as a dinner-plate sized crystal of ice, all feathery and silver, would turn in just the right way to reflect some light leaking in from a crack above the rotate away and disappear. The sight and sound does indeed create some sort of etherial trippy effect, but it's transendently beautiful . I don't know how they make that sound but suspect the seals create the noise when gases move from one cavity to another internally,and presumably in a controlled way but I don't know. I recall from an old George Carlin comedy performance where he was riffing on odd words for bodily functions that the noises made by our churning stomachs it was called borboyrigmi. I used to think another aspect of psychodelia was the look on the faces of the weddell seals when they saw people. They'd just sort of stare at you with these big dark eyes, then roll their eyes as if you were an hallucination; something that couldn't possibly be there. You couldn't help but make the same faces right back at 'em as if to say "me too." I'd sometimes wonder why I was there myself.
I haven't seen this movie yet, but hopefully soon. Roger Ebert's review of it was very positive and it made me think that Herzog captured what it is like to be down there, for both the scientists and workers, or "beakers" and "dirt balls" as we were commonly and good naturedly called. Thanks for that clip.

Aren't they Weddell seals?

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 14 Nov 2009 #permalink

maybe they waddle

I saw 'Encounters' in the theater a while back and it was like most of Herzog's films--fascinating, unafraid to throw out the occasional subjective viewpoint, and visually gorgeous. I like that he's consciously unconcerned with 100% objectivity, since as a filmmaker/artist/person you approach any material with some form of bias. Not that it's impossible to attain, he's just not interested in trying for it. Plus his dry humor is incredibly funny.

Someone did a fake blog by him, with entries like 'I make a cheese sandwich and I hate it. I go outside to find my car has been stolen and I am unsurprised.' I can't find it now though, I think it's been taken down. There are others though, all worth it,

It inspired me to create Herzog's Cat Blog, which is my cat Herzog's personal blog.

I'm sure even a blog by a cat named Herzog will be mindblowingly eloquent.

And thanks for catching that, Jim.