I'm sure many of you enjoyed a lovely prepared meal for Thanksgiving yesterday. But what if you had been offered a freshly prepared penguin? That was the experience of Paul Nicklen, a photographer for National Geographic when he went to Antarctica to do something few had ever done; photograph leopard seals under water.
Think seal: think cute baby fur seal, or wide-eyed "Casper the friendly ghost" seal. This is not the leopard seal. This animal has a mouth that opens like a crocodile and can unzip a penguin like you and I peel a banana. Cute does not in any way apply to this fearsome predator. But in a surprising twist, when Nicklen entered the water with what was described as "the largest leopard seal ever seen" he experienced a true connection with this wild creature. Once she established he was no threat (which involved a demonstration that his head fit in her mouth), she took pity on the seemingly helpless thing, and proceeded to entice him with a series of offerings ranging from live penguins, to injured, to ready peeled. A truly fascinating and unique encounter. You can hear Nicklen in his own words below, and see some of his stunning images.
You can have your own, but somewhat safer encounter, at the Taronga Zoo in Australia where sick and injured leopard seals are returned to health. Due to restrictions about returning these animals to the Antarctic, they live out their lives in their Great Southern Oceans exhibit. The exhibit apparently includes penguins - but one assumes not sharing the water with the grinning seals!