Leopard Seals Play With Their Food | Bad Natured | BBC Earth

Alex Vail has filmed in some of the harshest environments on earth. But one encounter that has stayed with him is a brutal run-in between leopard seals and newly-fledged gentoo penguins.


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My name's alex vale and i'm a wildlife cinematographer although i'm from tropical north queensland i'm lucky enough to do a lot of my work in the polar regions of the world so up north in the arctic and down south in the antarctic and what i'm going to tell you about.

Today is leopard seals we're going to what is one of the most beautiful places i have ever seen siever cove now pulling into it my breath was just taken away it's it's got this huge glacier on one side and then there's this bay of the ocean that's just filled with all these icebergs of different shapes and.

Different hues of blue and then on the other side is this rocky area these big sort of rounded rocks kind of unusual for antarctica and perched on top of these is this small argentinian field station so we were there to film a sequence on gentoo penguin fledglings being predated.

Upon or at least attacked by leopard seals the ultimate villain so i got there about a couple of weeks before the main action was due to start and during this time i was filming the gentoo penguin chicks up in the colony so the colony is just right around the argentinian base only had about an hour commute to work each day.

And i absolutely fell in love with the chicks they're just the most gorgeous little things penguins in general are one of my favorite animals actually so the little chicks the gentoos they're just these little sort of fluffy gray and white balls of joy that's probably about the best way that i can describe them the chicks are pretty clumsy they.

Fall over bits of rock and down little ledges but they just pick themselves up and off they go again so they're absolutely gorgeous and i really fell in love with them and that made what happened next even sort of harder to see so the main event was when these penguin chicks go into the water for the.

First time in their lives which is called fledging so they lose all of their down and they get their adult feathers and they have to learn to swim basically immediately and they're not particularly good at it to start with leopard seals are basically the ultimate predator they're massive about three and.

A half meters long really chunky really strong very fast in the water and they've got this really kind of evil look to them they've got a massive long head makes them look a little bit like a velociraptor but underwater and their their mouth almost seems to go too far back in their jaw and it sort of.

Comes up at the end which gives them this slightly sinister sort of grin so they seem to know when the the fledging season for the em the um gentoo penguin chicks is which is only for a couple of weeks each year and i imagine these leopard seals come in from far and wide because there was about four or five of them there at a time.

They just sort of zoom up behind them grab them by the feet and pull them down because these these penguin fledglings they're not particularly good at swimming yet at times there was brash ice in the bay so these sort of bits of ice of different size that the penguins would have to sort of clamber over and the.

Leopard seals would come up underneath that and they'd just pull the penguin chicks down certainly some of the the fledglings escaped but a lot of them got taken but the really bad natured bit of what the leopard seals did was how long they would play with these chicks before they finally kind of put them out of their.

Misery so they'd grab the chick they'd pull it under water and then they'd let it go and you're thinking what what's this leopard seal doing that chick was hardly even struggling and the chick would shoot off and the leopard seal would chase after it not very fast really for a leopard.

Seal and grab it again pull it under water chick would sometimes play dead sort of seemingly to make the leopard seal let it go and then then leopard seal would let it go and the chick would trying to get onto a bit of ice which would fall over and the leopard seal would grab it again and and oh man just watching this it was.

Pretty heartbreaking like it was it was what we were there to film so you know we were of course glad that we were getting the sequence that we'd come for but it was pretty disturbing to watch to be honest just it just had this feeling of oh come on leopard seals just just put these poor chicks out of their.

Misery these are the chicks that i'd been filming for weeks and i just they were gonna get eaten they could at least get taken out quickly but that's not really what happened eventually the leopard seals would kill the chicks they would um well it was pretty grisly actually they'd do it through this process called flailing.

Where they'd grab the chick by the head eventually and then they'd sort of toss it from side to side and that would just cause the chick to separate into a couple of parts and it was pretty nasty pretty grisly most of the time the leopard seal would eat the chick after it had done this a.

Few times we saw just the dead bodies of the chicks floating around but generally they would eat them but in some cases they wouldn't and that was another thing that made us think man why you know why are they killing these chicks if they're not even going to eat some of them so this really got me wondering you know.

Why on earth do the leopard seals do this why don't they just eat the chick straight away now we've talked to a really eminent um leopard seal cyan test and there's a few theories of why the leopard seals might do this so one is they might be trying to sort of weaken the chicks before they go in for the killing blow.

So that the chick is less able to fight back penguins have got really sharp beaks they could totally peck the leopard seal in the eye now another potential explanation that i think is probably more likely in that it may allow them to learn how to catch these penguins better now you might think well why do they.

Need to learn how to catch the penguins chicks better like they catch them really easily right this really abundant food source of the fledglings is only available for maybe a couple of weeks a year for these leopard seals and then in other times they need to catch much faster prey such as adult gen 2 penguins now i filmed.

A leopard seal a couple of times trying to catch an adult gentoo penguin before the um the chicks went into the water and boy those leopard seals have a much harder time with the adults you know the adults are so fast in the water and so maneuverable and the leopard seal is just zipping around behind it and eventually the adult just flies out of.

The water towards the rocks probably launches itself five to ten meters uh through the air skids up onto the rocks runs into a rock and sort of shakes itself off and it's fine and poor leopard seal didn't catch it so this sort of instinct of the leopard seals which leads them to play with the.

Chicks when they're not really that hungry and the chicks are actually very easy for them to catch this may actually be really beneficial for the leopard seals in getting better at catching harder to catch prey such as gentoo penguins so what appears to be kind of bad natured cruel behavior on the part of.

The leopard seal may be really important for helping it to survive through the harder times of the year you

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Leopard Seals Play With Their Food | Bad Natured | BBC Earth