A Kindly Leopard Seal

A leopard seal growling while sitting on the s...

Image via Wikipedia

Someone just sent me an amazing video of Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic contributing photographer, who went to Antarctica to photograph leopard seals.  They can weigh over 1300 pounds, and their jaws can open more than 160 degrees, the better to chomp down on large prey, such as a camera-toting human.

As Nicklen’s boat approached a group of seals, one swam over to investigate.  Her teeth looked like white knives, and her head was twice as wide as a grizzly bear’s.  Nicklen’s guide said, “That’s the biggest leopard seal I’ve ever seen!”  But Nicklen, trembling with fear that she might gulp him down for breakfast, got into the water with her anyway.

She took his whole head and camera into her giant mouth.  A lesser man might have died right there of a heart attack.  But then the seal must have worried that Nicklen was the one who needed a meal instead of her because she swam away and returned with a live penguin, which she tried to feed him.

When Nicklen didn’t smack his lips and take a bite, the penguin escaped.  So the seal got Nicklen another penguin – and another and another – and he didn’t eat them, either.  She looked at him “with disgust,” he says, because she thought he was a pathetic loser who didn’t even know how to feed himself.  To teach him to hunt, she brought him weak penguins, then dead ones, and, finally, she tried to shove half-eaten ones into his camera, which he believes she thought was his mouth.

Finally, surely concluding he was an imbecile who was going to starve, she ate a penguin in front of him to show him how to consume a meal.  He marveled at her concern and her efforts to help.  Here he’d come to photograph a potentially vicious brute, but she turned out to be a muffin.  With generosity, she took care of him and tried to feed him for four days.

Yet people sometimes tell me that animals are incapable of compassion!

Yeah, right.

Here’s a video of Nicklen and the seal.  Enjoy.

5 Responses to “A Kindly Leopard Seal”


  1. 1 Suzanne H. Kerr December 10, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    Amazing story about the leopard seal! Was it a male or female?
    I loved looking into the face and mouth of this unexpectedly friendly creature. Four days was a long time to work on the relationship; I so admire the photographer for his persistence. Nature stories like this are good for the soul!

  2. 3 Bill December 7, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    Great video. I have heard of Dolphins that try to save swimmers and divers then get agitated when the perceive that someone feigns being in trouble when they are not.

  3. 5 Jim October 21, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    Great video clip – and an amazing encounter.


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