National Geographic News

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published March 11, 2014

While documenting leopard seals in Antarctica for a 2006 National Geographic magazine story, photographer Paul Nicklen had an experience that he says "will stay with me forever" (see Nicklen's photos). That experience has recently resurfaced and gone viral on the Internet, thanks to remixing and postings on Facebook and other outlets.

"Leopard seals are the most incredible animals I've ever had the pleasure of photographing," he said. "When you get in the water with a wild animal, you're essentially giving yourself to that animal because, as humans, we're quite helpless and vulnerable in the water. You're at the seal's mercy. You're at the predator's mercy.

"Not only did the leopard seals not attack as some predicted they would, they fed me penguins, followed me around, and generally put on a nonstop show."

In the video above, Nicklen explained how an encounter with one particular female leopard seal was especially poignant. The animal had a head larger than a grizzly bear's, and it took his camera and his head into its mouth.

But instead of harming him, the seal began to "nurture" him. It began to bring him penguins, first alive, then dead, perhaps assuming that he was a "useless predator in her ocean."

The top predator apparently tried to feed the weaker Nicklen for four days as he scuba dived in the area, working on the assignment.

(See more behind-the-scenes videos of Paul Nicklen photographing polar bears and walruses.)

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

271 comments
Susan Scarborough
Susan Scarborough

fantastic video, would really like to learn more about their lives.


Vera Amaral-abbott
Vera Amaral-abbott

Thank You so much for sharing your experience.  I can only imagine it!!     and  I am sure it doesn't even come close to how you felt.


Thank You

Deborah Wright
Deborah Wright

Those TEETH ..That HEAD. Thank you many times over for sharing that experience!!!!

Diane Ullman
Diane Ullman

This is where an inability to communicate makes me sad.  I would so have wanted to communicate with the seal to thank her for caring and trying to help.  I would have wanted to say that I was only a visitor to her waters, that penguin wasn't my noral prey but that in my own environment I was a capable enough predator in my own way so she needn't worry about me.  Of course it's impossible now but maybe someday we'll learn how to tell creatures like her about ourselves an ask them to tell us about their lives.


We aren't good for leopard seals.  We aren't good for the other life forms on this planet, but I am so glad that Paul Nicklen is an exception who can show us how right Shakespere was when he said "There are more things in heaven and earth... than are dreamed of" in our philosophy.

유진 손
유진 손

This story is being issued on South Korea and I saw his picture on photo exhibition by my own eyes. I was lucky★

Pat Mobilik
Pat Mobilik

a really great neighbor! I am jealous you have a friend in antartica. Great work! thanks for the share.

Elaine Koshman
Elaine Koshman

Way too cool, what a great experience, keep up the great work, I really loved your video,


Gerda Mouton
Gerda Mouton

Watching this scene transports one away from the hecticness of our world.

JOSE GUERRERO
JOSE GUERRERO

Excelent !! Greetings from Irapuato, Guanajuato, México

Ann Holgate
Ann Holgate

Leopard seals are awesome animals. What an amazing experience and great footage.

frank enriquez
frank enriquez

Humans can learn much from the concern and care displayed by this wild animal. 

Patricia McClure
Patricia McClure

Truly that was a magnificent experience. I have watched the video more than once just to capture the essence.

Fernanda Pateo
Fernanda Pateo

AMAZING! I have one photo of the leopard seal , but you are crazy and very talented! Congratulations!

Risha v.B.
Risha v.B.

That must have been a puzzling 96 hrs for the Leopard Seal. Surely there was no way of showing algae could be a preferred nourriture for the photographer, or was there? May you keep on loving what you do!

Shoba Jolly
Shoba Jolly

Wow!! What a moving story! Its really another world out there!! I subscribe to National Geographic Magazine and reading it transports me far away from the humdrum existence of city life, but this video is a rare treat!

Lauren Coppage
Lauren Coppage

This story inspired me to subscribe to National Geographic magazine. I'm psyched to see what other fascinating things you have to share!

Elizabeth Dunstan
Elizabeth Dunstan

I've just come back from Antarctica and seen leopard seals beside my zodiac. They are incredibly beautiful, but very big. To get into the water with one takes courage. Seals have been known to puncture zodiacs.

But what an awe-some experience.

michael metcalf
michael metcalf

Inspiring and Amazing , that is a Big Seal !!!! WOW !!! and it was so Sweet to try  and feed You like that :)

Juan  Eli Rodriguez
Juan Eli Rodriguez

FANTASTIC ! Pure maternal love, I guess She actually thought you were her lost sick and dying hungry puppy thanks to your diving suit and fins , other wise she would have eaten you alive ;) Thanks for the wonderful Images. RESPECT!

Doreen Richards
Doreen Richards

amazing that you have patients to do such wonderful work love the video  thank you 

Andrea Strickland
Andrea Strickland

Amazing...I would have died from the cold...That would have truely been the experience of a lifetime.

D. Jankovich
D. Jankovich

That is cool Paul Nicklen. Thank you so much for sharing this. What an incredible adventure.

Morgan Ekhoff
Morgan Ekhoff

That's amazing!  I wish I could've been there.  I love leopard seals, they're so graceful.

Joan Andrzejewski
Joan Andrzejewski

REALLY REALLY Amazing!!!! Thank you for opening a world never experienced before to me.

Alessandra S.
Alessandra S.

THIS IS AMAZING!!! Thank you for sharing your experience with us 

Roger McBride
Roger McBride

I agree, animals are amazing.  And intelligent and caring as well.

joan cressman
joan cressman

Animals are amazing.  I have seen several National Geo photographers discuss their photography and adventures.  Now, yours has taken first place.

Joyce Rounds
Joyce Rounds

A great example as to how we can learn our life lessons from the animal kingdom!

Patricia Durbin
Patricia Durbin

I am Loving Nature ! Thank you SO MUCH ! @ National Geographics!

Gangadharan Pulingat
Gangadharan Pulingat

Sir, very amazing and fantastic photography and really a brave attempt to get such a photograph facing the challenges of wild life. 

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