Published April 9, 2010
New National Geographic Crittercam footage shows never before seen eating habits of the Australian sea lion—including video of a sea lion hunting a large octopus. The footage is from a project intended to help save the endangered sea lions, in part by uncovering where and how the animals eat.
(The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
© 2010 National Geographic
Australian sea lions are lending a hand, or maybe a flipper, in the establishment of South Australia’s marine parks. And along the way, the National Geographic Crittercam captured a never-before-seen act of predation: a sea lion capturing and eating a large octopus.
The project, led by South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) scientist Dr. Brad Page, is revealing critical information about South Australia’s sea floor environments. And it’s revealing valuable insights into the behaviour and foraging habits of the endangered Australian sea lion.
Sea lions fitted with GPS trackers and a National Geographic Crittercam are taking scientists on amazing journeys to previously unknown marine ‘hot spots.’ These areas are important not only for providing the sea lions’ food, but also for maintaining fish populations.
The Crittercams were deployed at Dangerous Reef in Spencer Gulf, a rocky island
the size of a football field, and home to the biggest Australian sea lion colony.
Combining the two instruments, the sea lions themselves are showing the researchers behaviour never before witnessed by scientists, and exactly where and how they feed. It’s answering many questions about the endangered sea lions, which will help make sure the areas to be designated as Marine Parks protect key sea lion habitat.
Dr. Page says, “One important discovery is that the sea lions always feed on the sea floor" and they don’t eat open ocean fish, known as pelagic. "This is critical information because the marine parks are being set up to protect sea floor habitats," a move that the scientists can now confirm will protect critical sea lion resources.
In one of the more spectacular pieces of Crittercam video so far, we can see this female working hard to handle a challenging prey item – a large octopus. Too big to swallow in one gulp, she drags it to the surface where she can breathe while she works at breaking it down into bite-size pieces.
At several points, the octopus tries to get away, but the sea lion is relentless. She bites off tentacles one by one.
The octopus drifts away, but again, the sea lion goes back for more of her meal, all the while, keeping the prey near the surface, where she can take some breaths.
The three-year project has been substantially funded by the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, and is being conducted by SARDI and the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, with support from Flinders University and Marine Innovation South Australia.
With little known about sea snakes, scientists worry that massive harvests could be damaging wild populations.
In Kenya, baby elephant fights to survive after poachers poisoned her mother.
Photographer Corey Rich is documenting a pair of climbers who are attempting what some call the longest, hardest free climb in the world.
The Future of Food
How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?
We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.