Scientists have caught on video, penguins being sexually harassed and sometimes eaten afterwards, by fur seals, on a desolate sub-Antarctic island.
The details of the video have been published in a journal called Polar Biology. The name of the study is “Multiple occurrences of king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) sexual harassment by Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella).”
One of the first time scientists noted of this abusive sexual behavior was in 2006, so the incident didn’t come as an actual surprise. Marion Island, a Sub-Antarctic island with a large population of both king penguins as well as fur seals, was the island where the behavior was seen in 2006. Researchers saw a fur seal trying to force itself upon a king penguin and concluded that the incident could be blamed on the seal’s frustration or sexual inexperience. It could also be considered as a predatory act or as a playful gesture that went terribly wrong.
However, scientists were not expecting to witness a similar incident afterwards and especially not in several occasions. The team of researchers led by William and Bruyn Haddad witnessed three separate incidents in which a penguin was chased and then forced upon by a male fur seal. Two of the penguins were sexually harassed on Goodhope Bay while the third one was raped on Funk beach. The incident from 2006 happened on Trypot beach.
The penguins were abused several times, each time lasting around five minutes. In three of the cases, the penguin was set loose after the seal finished with it. Only one case was recorded when the penguin was actually killed and eaten. As seal usually consider penguins prey, the scientists were not surprised of this behavior.
These were the only cases ever recorded, of two animals from two different biological classes attempt to mate. Similar cases of raping and abusive behavior can be found throughout the animal kingdom, but it is very unusual for a mammal and a bird to attempt intercourse.
Scientists are now trying to figure out what actually determines this act. One of the theories is the fact that the act of raping penguins is becoming a learned behavior. Younger seals see it done by older seals so they try mimicking it.
Another theory suggests the fact that seals can actually be practicing their sexual capabilities on penguins. They could also be using the sexual harassment as a way to cope with not being able to defend or collect harems of female fur seals.