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.
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.
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.
This story is being issued on South Korea and I saw his picture on photo exhibition by my own eyes. I was lucky★
a really great neighbor! I am jealous you have a friend in antartica. Great work! thanks for the share.
Truly that was a magnificent experience. I have watched the video more than once just to capture the essence.
AMAZING! I have one photo of the leopard seal , but you are crazy and very talented! Congratulations!
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!
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!
This story inspired me to subscribe to National Geographic magazine. I'm psyched to see what other fascinating things you have to share!
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.
Inspiring and Amazing , that is a Big Seal !!!! WOW !!! and it was so Sweet to try and feed You like that :)
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!
Amazing...I would have died from the cold...That would have truely been the experience of a lifetime.
Animals are amazing. I have seen several National Geo photographers discuss their photography and adventures. Now, yours has taken first place.
Sir, very amazing and fantastic photography and really a brave attempt to get such a photograph facing the challenges of wild life.
From herding sheep in Mongolia to supercell thunderstorms in Oklahoma, see a gallery of the best user submitted photos this year.
Hoverboards, flying cars, automatic fill-ups, and fuel from garbage—the energy ideas in 'Back to the Future' are close at hand.
Fracking for shale oil has boosted U.S. oil production to near-record levels. But the industry faces two challenges: low prices and low reserves.
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.