Drone footage has shown never-before seen behaviour of two leopard seals sharing food.
Despite being considered a charismatic and enigmatic Antarctic predator, leopard seals are normally thought of as being solitary.
They are largely intolerant of each other but can be forced to hunt alongside one another when congregating in areas of abundant prey.
A new study analysing the previously unseen footage reports up to 36 seals seen feeding at the same king penguin colony in South Georgia.
It also highlights examples of two seals feeding on the same penguin carcass, the first evidence of such behaviour ever being recorded.
However, scientists add it is unclear if it is a case of true cooperation, or whether both seals were simply accepting the competitor so that they didn’t have to chase them away, potentially leading to them losing their prey completely.
Published in Polar Biology, the study was led by James Robbins, a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Plymouth and formerly with the British Antarctic Survey. He said:
“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.
“The footage 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.”