Advertisement

Polar Biology

, Volume 42, Issue 8, pp 1625–1630 | Cite as

A rare observation of group prey processing in wild leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx)

  • James R. RobbinsEmail author
  • Dion Poncet
  • Alistair R. Evans
  • David P. Hocking
Short Note

Abstract

Cooperative feeding is often observed among predators with strong social bonds; however, it is unexpected in solitary predators. During 2016, several mass predation events were witnessed in St Andrews Bay and Right Whale Bay, South Georgia, where up to 36 leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) were seen feeding together at king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) colonies. Three post-mortem prey-processing events were observed where two leopard seals actively fed on the same carcass in an unusual display of tolerance for a species where anti-social behaviour is the norm. The seals were observed repeatedly tearing adult king penguins between themselves, while floating alongside each other at the surface of the water. This is the first record of co-feeding in this difficult-to-study species; however, it is expected that the behaviour is rare within the population. We propose that the high density of predators combined with the readily available prey, makes it costlier to defend a kill than it is to tolerate kleptoparasitism. It is unclear whether this behaviour shows cooperative feeding, which would likely enable more efficient prey processing: by holding the prey in their jaws, each seal provides an anchor on the prey that others can pull against to stretch and tear it.

Keywords

Cooperation Foraging behaviour Leopard seal Predation Kleptoparasitism Social behaviour 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Sophie Lanfear (Producer, Silverback Films) for continued support for this manuscript, sourcing leopard seal footage and for liaising with Silverback. This paper would not be possible without Silverback Films and the film crew’s hard work on the ground. Contact with the film crew was initially established through the British Antarctic Survey. The authors also thank Silke Cleuren, William Parker and Kathryn Pack for critically reading the drafts of this manuscript. They also thank the two reviewers and editor who greatly improved the manuscript during the peer-review process.

Author contributions

The manuscript was devised and drafted by JR and DH. Footage was analysed by JR. Photography of solitary predation events was provided by JR. In situ behavioural observations, additional footage and accounts were provided by DP. AE provided critical feedback on the manuscript. All authors contributed to this manuscript and provided comments on drafts.

Funding

No funding was utilised for this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

We declare that there are no competing interests associated with this work.

Research involving with animal rights

All observations were made under permit of the South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands Government. Drone footage was obtained under Regulated Activity Permit 2016/031 by licensed pilots. Additional images were taken by JRR under Regulated Activity Permit 2015/013.

Permission to carry out fieldwork

All fieldwork and data collection were authorized by South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands Government under Regulated Activity Permits 2016/031 and 2015/013.

Supplementary material

Supplementary file1 (AVI 104,495 kb)

References

  1. Ainley D, Ballard G, Karl B, Dugger K (2005) Leopard seal predation rates at penguin colonies of different size. Antarct Sci 17:335–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balme GA, Miller JR, Pitman BR, Hunter LTB (2017) Caching reduces kleptoparisitism in a solitary, large felid. J Anim Ecol 86:634–644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bonner N (1982) Seals and man: a study of interactions. University of Washington Press, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  4. De Vree F, Gans C (1994) Feeding in tetrapods. In: Bels V, Chardon M, Vanderwalle P, Chardon M, Vanderwalle P (eds) Advances in comparative and environmental physiology, vol 18. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp 93–118Google Scholar
  5. Erb E (1993) Some field observations on leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) at Heard Island 1992/93. Heard Island 1992 ANARE Report. K. Green. Kingston, Australian Antarctic Division, pp 48–66Google Scholar
  6. Hamilton J (1939) The leopard seal Hydrurga leptonyx (De Blainville). Discov Rep 18:239–264Google Scholar
  7. Hiruki L, Schwartz M, Boveng P (1999) Hunting and social behaviour of leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) at Seal Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. J Zool 249:97–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hocking D, Evans A, Fitzgerald E (2013) Leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) use suction and filter feeding when hunting small prey underwater. Polar Biol 36:211–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hocking D, Fitzgerald E, Salverson M, Evans A (2016) Prey capture and processing behaviours vary with prey size and shape in Australian and subantarctic fur seals. Mar Mamm Sci 32:568–587CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hocking D, Marx F, Park T, Fitzgerald E, Evans A (2017) A behavioural framework for the evolution of feeding in predatory aquatic mammals. Proc R Soc B-Biol Sci 284:20162750CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hocking D, Marx F, Sattler R, Harris R, Pollock T, Sorrell K, Fitzgerald E, McCurry M, Evans A (2018) Clawed forelimbs allow northern seals to eat like their ancient ancestors. R Soc Open Sci 5:172393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jourdain E, Vongraven D (2017) Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and killer whale (Orcinus orca) feeding aggregations for foraging on herring (Clupea harengus) in northern Norway. Mamm Biol 86:27–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Krause D, Goebel M, Marshall G, Abernathy K (2015) Novel foraging strategies observed in a growing leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx) population at Livingston Island, Antarctic Peninsula. Anim Biotelem 3:24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Packer C, Ruttan L (1988) The evolution of cooperative hunting. Am Nat 13(2):159–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Penny R, Lowry G (1967) Leopard seal predation of Adelie penguins. Ecology 48(5):878–882CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pitman R, Durban J (2012) Cooperative hunting behaviour, prey selectivity and prey handling by pack ice killer whales (Orcinus orca), type B in Antarctic Peninsula waters. Mar Mamm Sci 28:16–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Pyke G, Pulliam H, Charnov E (1977) Optimal foraging: a selective review of theory and tests. Q Rev Biol 52(2):137–154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Rogers T, Bryden M (1995) Predation of adelie penguins (Pygoscellis adelilae) by leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) in Prydz Bay, Antarctica. Can J Zool 73(5):1001–1004CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sachs J, Mueller U, Wilcox T, Bull J (2004) The evolution of cooperation. Q R Biol 79(2):135–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Schoener T (1971) Theory of feeding strategies. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 2:369–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Taylor M (1987) How tetrapods feed in water: a functional analysis by paradigm. Zool J Linn Soc 91(2):171–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Van Valkenburgh B (1996) Feeding behaviour in free-ranging large African carnivores. J Mammal 77(1):240–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological and Marine SciencesPlymouth UniversityPlymouthUK
  2. 2.British Antarctic SurveyCambridgeUK
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.Geosciences, Museums VictoriaMelbourneAustralia
  5. 5.Shallow Marine Surveys GroupStanleyFalkland Islands

Personalised recommendations