A Sad Mystery

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1903 Robert Falcon Scott made an odd discovery in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica:

[W]e have seen no living thing, not even a moss or a lichen; all that we did find, far inland amongst the moraine heaps, was the skeleton of a Weddell seal, and how that came there is beyond guessing. It is certainly a valley of the dead; even the great glacier which once pushed through it has withered away.

It appears that periodically a crabeater, Weddell, or leopard seal finds its way inland from McMurdo Sound and the Ross Sea and perishes in the punishing environment of the dry valleys, an extreme desert. There the dry conditions mummify its corpse, preserving it in some cases for thousands of years.

Some mummies have been found as much as 41 miles inland and as high as 5,900 feet above sea level, reflecting a heroic effort to find the sea. Mercifully the phenomenon is relatively rare, with a seal becoming lost only once every 4 to 8 years.