King penguins becoming 'fast food' for Antarctic fur seals
London, January 22 (ANI): Scientists have filmed Antarctic fur seals catching and eating king penguins in the open ocean, behaviour that has not been observed before.
Male Antarctic fur seals are known to occasionally take king penguins on land.
But, according to a report by BBC News, 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 Possession Island in the Indian Ocean.
Dr Karine Delord of the French National Centre for Scientific Research 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.
Sometimes the penguins escape injured, sometimes they do not.
The longest chase took five hours, when one male fur seal successively attacked at least ten king penguins.
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," said 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," she added.
However, as seal numbers increase in the area, they could start to have a greater impact on small populations of king penguins.
"Furthermore, the impact on injured adults is probably more difficult to evaluate because some of them survive the attacks, at least a few days," said Dr Delord.
"But it is necessary to estimate the impact on their breeding and survival at a longer time," she added.
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. (ANI)