Like many ‘generalised’ carnivores, the Common or Harbour seal Phoca vitulina is a surprisingly adaptable predator, even if it is rather conservative in diet and choice of foraging habitat (e.g., Tollit et al. 1998). This photo, taken by Philip Kirkham, is part of a sequence in which a seal stalks, catches, and then dismembers and eats a duck (the duck is a Common eider Somateria mollissima). We all know that such pinnipeds as Leopard seals Hydrurga leptonyx and various sea lions and fur seals routinely catch and eat birds (Todd 1988), but it’s a bit surprising to see the small, normally piscivorous Common seal doing this.
The sequence of photos were featured in the Telegraph and can be seen here. I want to say more – to talk, for example, about the apparently increasing number of Common seals that are being killed by Great white sharks (Stewart & Yochem 1985), about facultative suction-feeding (Marshall & Dehnhardt 2005), and about the extraordinary sensitivity of Common seal whiskers (Dehnhardt et al. 1998, Zimmer 2001) – but I just don’t have the time, oh well. Thanks to Markus of Bestiarium for bringing these images to my attention. Back to work…
Refs – -
Dehnhardt, G., Mauck, B. & Bleckmann, H. 1998. Seal whiskers detect water movements. Nature 394, 235-236.
Marshall, C. D. & Dehnhardt, G. 2005. Behavioral performance of suction feeding in Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). In 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Abstracts.
Stewart, B. M. & Yochem, P. K. 1985. Radio-tagged harbor seal, Phoca vitulina richardsi, eaten by white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, in the Southern California Bight. Californian Fish & Game 71, 113-114.
Todd, F. S. 1988. Weddell seals preys on Chinstrap penguin. The Condor 90, 249-250.
Tollit, D. J., Black, A. D., Thompson, P. M., Mackay, A., Corpe, H. M., Wilson, B., Van Parijs, S. M., Grellier, K. & Parlane, S. 1998. Variations in harbour seal Phoca vitulina diet and dive-depths in relation to foraging habitat. Journal of Zoology 244, 209-222.
Zimmer, C. 2001. By a whisker, harbor seals catch their prey. Science 293, 29-30.