Saturday, February 11, 2012

In The Food Chain

Copyright Caroline Mooney
Nudging the zodiac into the landing at Odbert Island, James spotted a leopard seal lurking in the shallows which in itself was not suprising as I have never seen more leopard seals anywhere else. having dropped our lovely penguin scientists ashore we pulled off till they had checked their birds. Waiting, we chatted and joked around till Jame's leopard seal came over for a closer look at us. The calm conditions made for excellent visibility and the seals graceful manouveres were clear to see. It circled and disappeared under the zodiac eyeing us off at each run, getting closer and closer. Its reptilian physique looked closely related to the Plesiosaurs. Knowing that they had previosuly bitten into a zodiac we eventually lost our nerve and we moved away. The seal didnt like the engine but found us again quite quickly. The routine of circling started up and eventually we chickened out and moved away again.

Copyright Cath King
A skua swooped down and started picking up stuff from the sea surface and taking it into the shore. We choofed over to see what he was picking up and found these balls of feathers. They were actually leopard seal scat. Discharged into the sea some of the matter may have washed out but they still looked like they were at least eighty percent feathers. The skuas liked eating the leopard seal skat and we had previously seen one picking it out of the seals bum. Nothing goes to waste and there was never a clearer demonstration of the closed loop system.
Copyright Cath King
The call came to pick up the penguin scientists and we headed for the landing. Hully spotted our leopard seal 100m along from the landing in the middle of killing a penguin. It was the moment we had been waiting for all season. I had missed the kill on a previous occasion and found just the penguins skin floating on the surface. This time however we saw it all go down. The little adelie penguin was thrashed violently from side to side well beyond the point where he had died. It seemed it was not just the kill, but the leopard seal would skin the penguin, obviously not relishing eating all those feathers. By the end it was a blurr of bloody flesh before it all went quite and the seal went off to digest his lunch.
Copyright Cath King
Better the penguin than us, I thought.