Best wildlife encounter of the season

Antarctic Visitors in Tasmania

Leopard Seal face
The best wildlife encounter for us this season was to watch a Leopard Seal hunt down a Black-faced Cormorant.

Now that the busy holiday season has come to an end, we took some time to reflect on all the wildlife interactions we’ve had.

The whale migration between October and December has been amazing (as always) and this year we were privileged to spend some time with a very inquisitive Dwarf Minke Whale and the endangered Blue Whale as well. But the most exciting day for us was, when we watched a rare visitor from the Antarctic – a Leopard Seal – prey on a Black-faced Cormorant.

Warning: the following photos show a Leopard Seal hunt down and feed on a Black-faced Cormorant!

Juvenile Leopard Seals discover their range

Leoprad Seal resting on the beach in Tasmania
Leopard Seal resting at Seven Mile Beach in Tasmania

Leopard seals breed on the Antarctic pack ice and range from the Antarctic coast to the sub-antarctic and sub-tropical seas. An average of five Leopard Seals visit the coast of Tasmania each year according to DPIPWE (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, water and Environment). This season, more than 10 sightings have been recorded in Tasmania, including at Seven Mile Beach (South of Hobart), Denmans Cove, Pirates Bay, Safety Cove Beach and our encounter at Cape Hauy (all on the Tasman Peninsula). Tasmanian marine biologists explain that these seals are typically sub-adults, not quite ready to breed, that like to explore their range and travel a lot further than the adults generally would do.

Top End Predators

The Leopard Seal is one of the apex predators in the Ocean and is rarely preyed upon by other animals, except the occasional desperate Shark or Killer Whale.

Leopard Seal showing off his teeth
Leopard Seals have powerful jaws and long jagged teeth that they also use for straining krill out of the water.

Leopard Seals have a varied diet. ‘Scats’ or faeces have been collected from Leopard Seals that haul out in Tasmania and studies indicate that whilst in Tasmanian waters the Seals are preying upon Shearwaters, Cormorants and Little Penguins, as well as Cephalopods and Fish (DPIPWE). They also use their long, jagged teeth for straining krill and are known to prey on other Seal species, like Crabeater Seals and Weddell Seals. Early on last season, we got to watch this incredible hunter catch and feed on a Black-faced Cormorant.

Leopard Seal throwing dead Cormorant
The Leopard Seal was throwing the dead Cormorant around to tear off pieces of meat.

On our tour, we like to stop at one of the rocks the Cormorants choose to rest upon, since they exclusively occur in coastal and marine waters. This time, we saw quite a bit of action before we arrived, with lots of Gulls circling around and calling out loud.

Splashes.

And this pour, dead  Cormorant got thrown through the air.

Leopard Seal and Prey
Leopard Seal and Prey

The leopard Seal popped his head up to see what we were up to and then continued feeding on its meal.

It is common that Leopard Seals thrash the captured bird back and forth until the skin peels away. The remaining carcass is then consumed.

Leopard Seals are only seen very rarely in Tasmania and usually when they rest on the beach. To see this Leopard Seal hunt in the waters of the Tasman Peninsula was extremely lucky, we’ve never got to witness this before and our guests felt like being on an expedition boat to Antarctica. πŸ˜‰

Leopard Seal feeding on a Black-Faced Cormorant
Leopard Seal feeding on a Black-Faced Cormorant.

Once the Leopard Seal had finished its meal, it actually became quite inquisitive and started to swim pirouettes next to our boat. Then he swam off towards the Cormorant roost in the hope of catching another bird (you can see its head in the bottom right corner of the image below, looking up at the Cormorants). The Cormorants were smarter this time around and so the Leopard Seal had to be content with what he got.

Leopoard Seal patrolling around a Cormorant Colony
After the Leopard Seal had finished its first meal, it swam back to the little Cormorant colony and patrolled around the rocks in the hope for another feed.

Would you like to find out more about the different wildlife that we’ve encountered on our tours? Then head over to our Gallery to see our latest snaps.

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