Featured Image Credit: npr.org
By: Kira Krall
Leopard seals are the dominant predator in Antarctica and it’s unfortunately earned them an unfavorable reputation. Their sheer size alone is intimidating, and their aggressive hunting habits definitely don’t help. Paul Nicklen and his National Geographic team wanted to change the world’s perception of leopard seals by getting into the water with as many seals as possible. His first encounter with a wild leopard seal helped Paul get all of the pictures he needed to prove his point in only two days.
Once Paul got into the frigid Antarctic water near the 13-foot leopard seal, she put on a threat display for a few minutes before finally relaxing. After a quick exit, she returned with a live penguin between her teeth. She let it go, it swam toward Paul, then fled. The leopard seal grabbed the penguin again and repeated this process about 10 times. Paul realized that she was trying to feed him.
Since Paul couldn’t catch and eat the live penguins, the seal began to tire out the penguins. When that didn’t work, she began bringing him dead penguins. After a few rounds of dead penguins being dropped in front of his face, she started putting the penguin corpses on top of his head.
Much like a parent who’s frustrated with a child that won’t eat, the seal started to exhale sharply in a commonly known threat display. Then she began to make guttural sounds much to the worry of Paul. What he didn’t notice was the other female leopard seal that had snuck up behind him. The original seal charged at the intruder stole her penguin, and tried yet again to feed Paul.
It’s hard to say whether the leopard seal was trying to feed Paul the same way she would feed one of her pups. However, this connection between human and seal can’t easily be denied. You can learn more about leopard seal hunting habits by reading this article, and watch a video of Paul describing his encounter below!