leopard seals weigh over a thousand pounds and have a reputation for being one of the most vicious predators in the sea. a leopard seal even killed a marine biologist in 2003. but photographer paul nicklen was befriended by a leopard seal who was patrolling a penguin rookery near anvers island, antarctica.
over the course of a five day photographic study, this female leopard seal would bring him about thirty penguins as gifts to eat. at first nicklen was confused. and very scared. “it takes a leap of faith when you get in the water with an animal like that, you’re completely vulnerable,” nicklen said.
but this seal began to bring him live penguins, which would swim away when he failed to grab them, and which she would swim after and return to him. realizing nicklen didn’t know what to do with the penguins, she started to bring him dead ones she had drowned. when he still didn’t know what to do, she showed him how to eat them (this involved ripping the head off the penguin and using the body like a cup to slurp down the entrails)
“it was a very deliberate effort at interspecies communication, whether it was because she was nurturing me, trying to communicate, or bored and lonely and wanted to hang out,” nicklen said. she even protected him from other approaching leopard seals, stealing their penguins and bringing them to him.
he considers the encounter the most rewarding experience of his twenty year career in photography. “when you spend a month trying to get a picture of a polar bear, then all of a sudden you have a top predator in antarctica force feeding you penguins all day, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
(more paul nicklen posts).