The Dry Valleys are littered with the corpses of dead animals. Occasionally, one of the penguins or seals that land at the shore will wander up valley and become disoriented. These unfortunate individuals soon become fully lost and start a long and difficult march until they collapse from lack of food and exhaustion.
No one is quite sure why seals and penguins would wander inland to begin with. One theory thrown around is that they see the reflection of light off the lakes and head towards it thinking it’s the ocean. This event is not as rare as one might think: researchers have proposed that one seal may enter the valleys every 8 years, and penguins are even more common.
These awkward marine mammals crawl on their bellies up staggering heights and distances. Weddell and Crabeater seal carcasses have been found up to 35 miles up the valley, and at elevations as high as 5000 feet. Dating the age of these bodies has remained difficult, however some initial carbon-dating research has labeled corpses anywhere from several hundred years to 2600 years old.
The Dry Valleys are a desert. This means that the lack of moisture and the cold, dessicating air dries out the bodies long before they get the chance to rot. The absence of any carrion feeders means that the bodies remain intact as they dry. The one exception to this are Skua – a type of sea bird that comes to the Valleys only to nest. These birds pick out the eyes of the dead animals. However, since the seal’s skin is rather thick, the birds are unable to tear at the flesh unless the animal had been initially injured (from falling off a cliff, etc). Seals that are hundreds of years old lay on the rocky ground, dried stiff, missing only their eyes. As the centuries pass, the blowing sand and rock will eventually break away the body until only a few bleached bones remain.
It’s a harsh continent.