Drone Captures Leopard Seals Sharing a Meal

A drone captured two leopard seals sharing a meal, a rarity for a species known for its solitary lifestyle.

Drone Captures Leopard Seals Sharing a Meal
Seals feeding on the same penguin James Robbins/University of Plymouth

So much for leopard seals being loners. 

A study of drone footage captured by a Netflix film crew for the show “Our Planet”  shows two leopard seals sharing food, something the predator is not known to do.

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As Many as 36 Seals Shared a Meal 

Leopard seals may be cute but they are predators living in the Antarctic and are known for their solitary nature. Research in the past has shown they don’t get along with others but will hunt alongside each other when there is enough prey for them all to feast off of. 

A new study of the previously unseen footage by James Robbins, a visiting research fellow at the University of Plymouth and published in Polar Biology, found as many as 36 seals were feeding at the same king penguin colony in South Georgia. Two of the seals were feeding on the same penguin carcass, revealing the first evidence of two leopard seals sharing food ever captured on film. The researchers warned it's not clear if the seals were willingly sharing their food or begrudgingly did it so that neither had to chase the other away. Researchers said it may be that it requires too much energy to defend a large kill by chasing rivals away and as a result, the leopard seal will tolerate other seals stealing some of the food. 

“Leopard seals are often portrayed as the villains – chasing fluffy penguins in Happy Feet and creating havoc in the Antarctic. In reality, little is known about these enigmatic creatures, and these observations provide key insights into their behaviour and social antics,” said Robbins in a press release announcing the results of the research.  “The footage provided by Our Planet film crews has given us an exciting new insight into the behaviour and lives of leopard seals. There is still so much that we don’t understand about these predators as they live in remote areas of the Antarctic and are often seen alone on an inaccessible iceberg. But I’ve personally had over 500 encounters with leopard seals and have never seen two animals being so tolerant of each other.”

Advanced Technology Enables Researchers to Understand More 

The video was filmed by Silverback Films and WWF for Netflix, with the show released in April. The leopard seal footage was captured in St Andrews Bay and Right Whale Bay in October of 2016. David Hocking a researcher from Monash University and another author of the paper said in a press release that the study underscores how new technology can help researchers get closer to wild animals. “By using a camera drone, the filmmakers were able to fly above the animals without disturbing them, revealing detailed behaviours that otherwise may have gone unnoticed to shore-based observers," wrote Hocking. 

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