Cruise Gone Wrong

The first time I see it, I'm still on the ship, and I think I'm imagining things. We're anchored off South Georgia Island, pretty much the middle of nowhere in the South Atlantic — famous for an abandoned whaling station and the grave of great explorer Ernest Shackleton. The second time I see it, I'm on the Zodiac, headed for shore, and there's no way to miss it: The expedition crew is scaring off seals with two-by-fours, trying to clear them off the landing area as if shooing away pigeons from a picnic.


Not so effective. The beach is covered in fur seals, with one penguin standing in the middle of them, looking like a guy so tough he shows up to a fight in a tuxedo. The crew leans over the front of the Zodiac. Shove. Shove. The seals duck and move. The penguin holds his ground.

Earlier, I'd been false-charged by a young seal, which is much like being false-charged by a young bear (I'm from Alaska): Run and retreat. Run back up. All you can do is talk calmly. "Look," I said. "Look how big I am. Look how big you are." Never mind that at half my height, he outweighs me. The game ended when he backed into an elephant seal, 11 feet long and unhappy about being awoken.

But things really turn ugly onshore when one of the seals runs up — no false charge here — and bites a passenger, a very nice man whose Parkinson's keeps him from moving out of the way quickly. The crew starts yelling at him for being bitten. The seal bites him again.


When we dock in Buenos Aires, the very nice man with Parkinson's will have a very nice wound. I'll be content to go home with no keepsake (besides this story)