© Laurent Ballesta
“We were still a few meters from the surface, when I heard the strange noises,” said Ballesta. Suspecting Weddell seals, known for their repertoire of at least 34 different underwater call types, he approached slowly. It was early spring in east Antarctica, and a mother was introducing her pup to the icy water. The world’s most southerly breeding mammal, a Weddell seal gives birth on the ice and takes her pup swimming after a week or two. The pair, undisturbed by Ballesta’s presence, slid effortlessly between the sheets of the frozen labyrinth. “They looked so at ease, where I felt so inappropriate,” said Ballesta. Relying on light through the ice above, he captured the curious gaze of the pup, the arc of its body mirroring that of its watchful mother.