This small penguin’s destiny was determined the instant it came face to face with a big leopard seal in the frigid seas off the Antarctic Peninsula.
The threatened bird attempted to swim away in vain, but the giant seal struck with lightning speed, locking its teeth on the penguin’s foot to prevent it from fleeing.
The greedy seal then carried its prey farther into the water, where it quickly devoured the rewards of its successful hunt. The graphic photographs were taken in 2009 in the seas of Port Lockroy, a natural port on the northwest coast of Wiencke Island, where penguin colonies are common.
Younger birds frequently walk into shallow water to play, unknowing of the perils that lurk beneath the surface where hunting leopard seals sit quietly, waiting for some unfortunate penguin to stray too close.
The seals ambush the penguins, pulling them by their feet farther into the sea and dro.wning them. ‘Young penguins go to the shallow water to play, and they aren’t used to the leopard seals’ ambush,’ explained Amos Nachoum, an Israeli Special Forces officer turned wildlife photographer who captured the remarkable images.
‘The leopard seal enters the small bay shortly before low tide and appears to be a rock, lowering its head in the water,’ said Mr Nachoum, 63, an expert on the powerful predators.
‘When the young penguins get too close, the leopard snaps with lightning speed, catching a penguin and returning to the deep water in one smooth motion, where it dro.wns.’
The seals, sometimes known as sea leopards, then peel the birds’ fur and feathers and consume them.
The sharp-toothed animals may consume up to 12 penguins in a single day when hunting in shallow seas.
Leopard seals, the second biggest species of seal in the Anarctic, prefer to hunt krill, squid, and fish in the open sea.