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Leopard seal sighted in Milford Sound

Media Release 14 November 2006
For immediate use

Antarctica comes to NZ … again

Leopard seal sighted in Milford Sound

Hot on the heels of the iceberg flotilla, another Antarctic denizen has bestowed New Zealand with a visit.

Yesterday, passengers and crew on board Real Journeys Milford Sound cruise vessels were treated to the rare sight of a leopard seal. The leopard seal – named for its spotted markings and leopard-like ferocity – usually lives on the fringes of the Antarctic icepack.

In winter, young animals move through the southern oceans, occasionally making it as far as New Zealand.

“It’s very unusual to see a leopard seal in the fiord,” says Real Journeys Milford Sound branch manager Fiona Black. “It’s only happened once before during the four years that I have been working here – and that was two weeks ago. This is probably the same one still hanging around.”

Both passengers and crew were rapt to have an opportunity to see a leopard seal up close.

“Everyone was pretty surprised. Leopard seals are much bigger than the New Zealand fur seals we usually see in Milford Sound. This one was probably about three metres long.”

Weighing in at around 300kg, the leopard seal is the largest of the four true seals which live in the Antarctic throughout the year. It has a disproportionately large snake-like head and a ferocious reputation. Though it doesn’t usually attack humans, it is wise to keep a safe distance.

Leopard seals are carnivorous, enjoying a diet of krill, fish and sea birds. “The penguins will need to watch out,” Ms Black says. “Leopard seals love to lunch on penguins.”

On the day the seal was sighted, local skippers noted that a large group of penguins had congregated on a beach in another part of the fiord, probably staying out of reach of their Antarctic visitor. The rare Fiordland Crested Penguin is currently at the end of its breeding season.

The leopard seal is known as a solitary and fierce predator. It can swim at up to 38kph when chasing penguins – just a little faster than the fastest penguins.


ENDS

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