Scientists documenting wildlife in the sub-Antarctic are shocked after witnessing multiple incidents in which fur seals sexually harassed penguins.
All four known sexual incidents followed a common pattern. Each time a seal chased, captured and mounted the penguin. The seal then attempted copulation several times, lasting about five minutes each, with periods of rest in between... In three of the four recorded incidents the seal let the penguin go. But on one of the more recent occasions, the seal killed and ate the penguin after trying to mate with it.
Male and female penguins mate through an opening called the cloaca, and in some instances, the seals are thought to have penetrated the birds.
Researchers Nico de Bruyn and William Haddad, of the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, think that the seals are learning the aberrant behavior from other seals on the island.
Their findings were published in the journal Polar Biology last week.
Wildlife researcher Tristan Scott also observed the behavior when he visited Marion Island a few years ago. In 2012, he told the New York Times that he saw a seal "court [a] penguin as if it were a female seal... [then] tore the bird to shreds and ate it."
While they are definitely shocking, similar patterns of interspecies sex attacks have also been documented among other marine animals.
In 2011, Discovery reported on at least 15 incidents in which sea otters in Monterey Bay, California, were observed copulating with and then killing young harbor seals. The attacks occurred between 2000 and 2002, according to a state wildlife officials. In several cases, the otters were observed guarding the carcasses of the seals they killed, and continues attempts at intercourse with them.