It was the unique aroma and strange sounds emanating from an Antarctic beach that first aroused the interest of alumnus Chris Wilson.
It was 2008, and he was working as a Building Services Supervisor on the construction of the new living quarters at Davis Station.
The noise was coming from the elephant seal wallows located below the building site. These wallows are created over many years, and consist of seal hair, excrement, sand and even the odd seal body, all of which have been compressed and frozen over countless seasons.
It is here that the young juvenile Southern Elephant Seals (Mirounga leonina) gather annually for their rather dramatically termed ‘catastrophic moult’. Huddling together is thought to speed up the moulting process, where they shed and replace their fur.
“The seals themselves produce quite a unique aroma and variety of sounds as they huddle together on the beach; from the bellowing during practice fights, to belching and snoring,” Chris said.
“All of which entices expeditioners to venture down to investigate the origins of these unworldly sounds and smells.
“It was during one of these exploratory visits that I managed to capture this image.
“I circled around the mostly-sleeping herd of seals looking for the best composition, and as I prepared to take the photograph, one of the previously sleeping seals opened his eyes, looked straight at me, and I took the photo.”
Chris has had the opportunity to live and work on the icy continent at Casey, Davis and Mawson stations.
“After completing my Bachelor of Environmental Design in 1995, I chose to broaden my architectural knowledge by working for a large Tasmanian construction company as a Project Manager,” he said.
“Throughout my time there, I was privileged to be involved in iconic projects such as Saffire and Mona.”
He spent four years working as a part-time lecturer at the University’s School of Architecture and Design before applying for a position with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).
In the years that followed, he completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Deakin University and was part of the project management team for the University’s city apartments, before returning to the AAD as the Architectural Services Manager.
In his current role he is responsible for the management, maintenance and engineering development of the built infrastructure at Australia’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations.
Chris’ passion for photography began at a young age when he would watch his father set up his camera during the family holidays.
While photography is a hobby, Chris has developed considerable expertise over the years in taking photographs in the extreme Antarctic environment.
This ranges from the best way to overcome the diffused sunlight that turns everything blue, the extreme contrast between the bright white snow and the darkness of the seals and penguins, and even how to control your breathing so the view finder doesn’t freeze over on -30 degree day.
The results are breathtaking photographs of a high technical and artistic standard that document the constantly changing Antarctic landscape.
The seal photograph above was a finalist in the 2020 Beaker Street Science Photography Prize.
Thank you to everyone who has submitted a photograph to Picture This, a section that seeks to celebrate our global alumni community by showcasing all the amazing places we live and the interesting aspects of our diverse lives and careers.