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Death in the shallows

Daily Mail
Monday, January 28, 2013

FROM the moment this tiny penguin came face to face with a mighty leopard seal in icy waters off the Antarctic Peninsula, its fate was sealed.

The threatened bird tried in vain to swim away, but the enormous seal attacked with lightning speed, clamping its jaws around the penguin's foot to thwart its escape.

The ravenous seal then dragged its prey further into the depths of the ocean, where it made short work of devouring the spoils of its successful hunt.

The graphic images were captured in 2009 in the waters of Port Lockroy, a natural harbour on the northwest shore of Wiencke Island, where colonies of penguins are a familiar sight.

Younger birds often venture into the shallow water to play, oblivious to the dangers that can lurk beneath the surface where hunting leopard seals lie motionless, only to strike when an unfortunate penguin unwittingly strays too near.

The seals ambush the penguins, dragging them deeper into the sea by their feet and drowning them.

"Young penguins go to the shallow water to play and they are not familiar with the leopard seals' ambushing act," said Amos Nachoum, an Israeli Special Forces officer turned wildlife photographer who captured the incredible shots.

"The leopard seal gets into the shallow bay just before low tide and pretends to be a rock, placing its head in the water," said Mr Nachoum, 63, who is a keen observer of the muscular predators.

"When the young penguins get too close the leopard snaps with lightning speed, catching a penguin, and in one smooth motion returns back to the deep water and proceeds to the drowning process."

The seals, also known as sea leopards, then strip the fur and feathers from the birds and devour them.

When hunting in shallow waters, the sharp-toothed mammals can feast on up to 12 penguins in a single day.

More often the leopard seals — the second largest species of seal in the Anarctic — hunt krill, squid and fish in the open sea.





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