As reported in the May 2008 Journal of Ethology, researchers in the sub-antarctic Indian Ocean on Marion Island, recently observed some fascinating and disturbing behavior. A young adult Antarctic fur seal was witnessed forcing itself upon an adult king penguin for upwards of 45 minutes. While young adult fur seals are known for aggressive sexuality that sometimes spans species between pinnepeds, this is the first documented case of a seal “[bridging] the level of vertebrate class in their copulatory attempts.” i.e. getting it on with a freakin penguin.
The seal was first spotted subduing the penguin, who was none to pleased by the advances. The seal overcame the penguin by laying on top of it, while the penguin flapped its flippers frantically. Sensitive Zooillogix readers should note that the penguin “showed no outward signs of injury” during or after the excitement, although it was no doubt traumatized. “The seal alternated between resting on the penguin (Fig. a) and bouts of pelvic thrusting copulatory behavior (Fig. b)…” While the seal’s “junk” was visible, it did not penetrate the victim. This was further verified by the researchers post coitus… Perhaps most tellingly, after 45 minutes, the seal “abruptly moved into the sea and completely ignored the penguin,” leading the researchers to postulate that the fur seal was “some a-hole frat guy.”
The scientists, P.J. Nico de Bruyn, Cheryl A. Tosh and Marthan N. Bester of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, noted some additional oddities about the encounter, beyond the obvious disparity in looks. Firstly, fur seal mating usually lasts between 2 1/2 to 6 minutes, making…
(more below the fold)
…this a marathon session by pinneped standards. Secondly, bull seals typically “support their own weight on their foreflippers” during the deed, making this seal’s behavior that much more unchivalrous, if possible.
A couple of hypotheses have emerged as to why the seal might have behaved in such a manner. The first involves a unique behavior of Marion Island fur seals: shore-based predation of penguins. Perhaps this seal was engaged in hunting the penguin and the “predatory behavior could have been redirected into sexual arousal.” I believe this is a distinct possibility as I have witnessed it many times on Law and Order SVU.
Another possibility is that this is a “sexual manifestation of the play instinct of seals.” Sounds like a shaky defense to me… Whatever the impetus, you can bet Disney’s PR people are in crisis mode.
Extra special thanks to Zooillogix reader Synapse for getting this to us first.
| Nico de Bruyn, P.K., Cheryl A. Tosh, Marthan N. Bester. (2008). Sexual harassment of a king penguin by an Antarctic fur seal. Journal of Ethology Japan, 26:295-297.