King penguins become fast food for Antarctic fur seals
Editor, Earth News
Antarctic fur seals have been filmed catching and eating king penguins in the open ocean, behaviour not seen before.
Male Antarctic fur seals are known to occasionally take king penguins on land. But this is the first time seals have been observed chasing, killing and eating king penguins at sea. The preference for king-sized fast food has evolved among fur seals living at
Catching a king penguin at sea is not easy.
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Fur seals are also known to prey on king penguins on the shore, a behaviour filmed by the BBC
She and her colleagues Dr Yohan Charbonnier and Dr Jean-Baptiste Thiebot were studying the conservation of penguins, sooty albatrosses and giant petrels around Possession Island, one of five small islands that make up the Crozet archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean.
While located high up on top of a nearby cliff, they witnessed fur seals predating on king penguins below them in the sea on 17 occasions during five days.
Though all were injured, each made it to the shore. Later the researchers witnessed a fur seal killing and eating a king penguin at sea. "We found that predation on king penguins by Antarctic fur seals is more common and widespread than previously reported," says Dr Delord. "It is too early to assess the impact of such behaviour because our observations need to be quantified on a longer period of time and other colonies of king penguins."
However, as seal numbers increase in the area, they could start to have a greater impact on small populations of king penguins.
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Currently, 30,000 pairs of king penguins reside at the largest colony on Possession Island, while less than 500 seals live in the same area.
The fur seals are still recovering, after both species were nearly driven extinct by human hunters at Crozet during the
At nearby Marion Island, where most documented attacks by Antarctic fur seals on shore-bound penguins occur, males, and particularly sub-adults males, are responsible.