Perhaps the most sought after photograph of a seal in Antarctica is the leopard seal. It is a top predator in the Antarctic waters, save that of the killer whale. It’s physical size and oddly shaped body, with a giant head and jaws, is formidable. It has been well photographed, and in some visually striking contexts. Most notably by Paul Nicklen who donned a dry suit and got in the water with a leopard seal. The story is as strong as the photos themselves. You can watch the youtube video here. In my somewhat limited experience with leopard seals (three trips to Antarctica), I’ve never encountered one that exhibited malicious behavior towards a human. But I have a similar experience with many other top predators of the terrestrial world, like polar bears and grizzly bears. That however, does not mean malicious encounters don’t exist, and that a cavalier attitude should be adopted when amongst the such kingpin predator species. However, the extravagant stories tend to get the highlight, rightly, or wrongly, but they should always be a reminder that the capabilities of wild animals should be respected. If the story below is true, and you were Orde-Lees, it may be doubtful that you would get in a drysuit and jump in the water with a leopard seal.
Returning from a hunting trip, Orde-Lees, traveling on skis across the rotting surface of the ice, had just about reached camp when an evil, knoblike head burst out of the water just in front of him. He turned and fled, pushing as hard as he could with his ski poles and shouting for Wild to bring his rifle. The animal—a sea leopard—sprang out of the water and came after him, bounding across the ice with the peculiar rocking-horse gait of a seal on land. The beast looked like a small dinosaur, with a long, serpentine neck. After a half-dozen leaps, the sea leopard had almost caught up with Orde-Lees when it unaccountably wheeled and plunged again into the water. By then, Orde-Lees had nearly reached the opposite side of the floe; he was about to cross to safe ice when the sea leopard’s head exploded out of the water directly ahead of him. The animal had tracked his shadow across the ice. It made a savage lunge for Orde-Lees with its mouth open, revealing an enormous array of sawlike teeth. Orde-Lees’ shouts for help rose to screams and he turned and raced away from his attacker. The animal leaped out of the water again in pursuit just as Wild arrived with his rifle. The sea leopard spotted Wild, and turned to attack him. Wild dropped to one knee and fired again and again at the onrushing beast. It was less than 30 feet away when it finally dropped.
recorded in Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage