Zooillogix

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.”

i-18f74adcddda294b6f06abac9aa30b1d-seal pervert.png

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.

Comments

  1. #1 vanderleun
    May 1, 2008

    Please keep us abreast of the outcome to the suit.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    May 1, 2008

    Well, the way those penguins dress, they’re kind of asking for it…

    But seriously, this interesting because of the psycho-sexual and predation overlap. Male Mallard ducks sometimes rape dead or dying rival males. I’ve seen a half dozen breeding male mallards repeatedly “copluate” with a half submerged male corpse, and there was actually a published paper written somewhat tongue in cheek about a male mallard copulating with a male who had run into the window at a research facility and either died or was dying.

    … Or maybe these two just have an arrangement that we are too species centric to understand ….

  3. #3 GAC
    May 1, 2008

    Hmm …

    I have heard it (drilled into my head through multiple sources) that rape is associated more with feelings of power than by sexual pleasure — so the hunting idea seems to fit. That is, if we can generalize human psychology into it …

    Never the less, a freaking seal raping a penguin — that’s intense.

  4. #4 Miss Cellania
    May 1, 2008

    They were under the mistaken impression that what happens in Antarctica stays in Antarctica.

  5. #5 Zelly
    May 1, 2008

    Good thing Mr. Seal didn’t try it in the water…I watched ducks mating while swimming one time, and I swear the male was trying to drown his partner.

  6. #6 Napoleon Dworkin
    May 1, 2008

    The caption says “during the process of sexual harassment”?

    Sounds like the writer has some diversity cree-dentials, and investigatory bias.
    There is nothing strange about the hypotheses of “Another possibility is that this is a “sexual manifestation of the play instinct of seals,” unless you are on the bandwagon to describe all male initiated sexuality as violent, and predatory, and echoing the sadly flawed, political gender feminist ‘logic’ of describing male sexuality in only negative terms.

    If that is the case, maybe the penguin can sue for tenure now, using some local vocal yokels advocacy group legal counsel…

    “predatory behavior could have been redirected into sexual arousal.”

    This seems plausible to me: It has been documented before in another case of blubbery seal on penguin flesh :
    http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0063585/plotsummary
    (in this case Rod Steiger…)

  7. #7 John Lynch
    May 2, 2008

    Almost as good as the paper about the gay necrophiliac duck.

  8. #8 milkshake
    May 2, 2008

    whereas gay rape is associated less with feeling for power and more with stealth

  9. #9 Martin R
    May 2, 2008

    Are we sure it wasn’t a queen penguin?

  10. #10 elliott
    May 2, 2008

    This is a big deal, apparently – the story also made it into Science’s “Random Samples” this week – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/vol320/issue5876/r-samples.dtl

  11. #11 Dana Hunter
    May 2, 2008

    Ah, yes, the beauty and majesty of nature.

    And here I thought sexual perversions were humanity’s last great hope of differentiating itself from other animals, LOL. Great write-up! It’s a good thing I’d finished eating when I hit that “a-hole frat guy” line!

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    May 2, 2008

    I did actually hesitate at the word “rape” … It has been used in the literature (about ducks) but generally behavioral biologists prefer the term “forced copulation” because, it has been said, that that is what it is. “rape” in humans may be a special subset of “forced copulation.”

    This of course brings up the whole issue of strict anti-anthropomorphism vs. other approaches to understanding the animal mind (humans included). And the whole issue of language and how it is generally used. If you want to avoid trouble … avoid language. No matter what you say if someone wants to give you a hard time, they will find a way.

  13. #13 Hello!
    May 2, 2008

    It is a Hollywood marriage, just a publicity stunt ahead of the upcoming “Pingu” movie. Everyone knows Robby the seal prefers giving oral sex to fish. He loves to swallow the huge fish.

  14. #14 Left_Wing_Fox
    May 2, 2008

    So the mechanic looks at the penguin and says “Well, it looks like you blew a seal”

    And the penguin replies “Oh, no! It’s just ice cream.”

  15. #15 Napoleon Dworkin
    May 2, 2008

    “If you want to avoid trouble…avoid language”

    Or better yet, avoid PC rhetoriticians,revisionists,fauxminists and other Ur-fascists, because in their world:
    “well if it was rape, it was a GOOD rape!”
    –Quote Eve Ensler, in the story “The Little Coochie Snorcher” a pro-gender feminist story from the Vagina Monologues, wherein a 26 year old woman rapes( in a matri-typical way) a young 13 year old girl…;-)

  16. #16 Matt Wedel
    May 9, 2008

    In somewhat related news, are you aware of this paper?

    Moeliker, C.W. 2001. The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard Anas platyrhynchos (Aves: Anatidae). DEINSEA 8: 243-247.

    Here’s the entire text of the abstract:
    “On 5 June 1995 an adult male mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) collided with the glass facade of the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam and died. An other drake mallard raped the corpse almost continuously for 75 minutes. Then the author disturbed the scene and secured the dead duck. Dissection showed that the rape-victim indeed was of the male sex. It is concluded that the mallards were engaged in an “Attempted Rape Flight” that resulted in the first described case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard.”

    What the author doesn’t mention in the abstract is that the 75-minute event ended prematurely when he separated the drake from the object of its perverted affection. Which makes me want to hit him (the author, not the drake). Because, why? Why would he end it? One minute was enough to document the behavior. After 75 minutes, surely any self-respecting scientist would want to know just how long this was going to continue, and watch until it was over. Now we’ll never know. What a loss for science.

    If you’d like a PDF, drop me a comment to that effect.

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