In November of 2009 National Geographic generated a short web video/slideshow of a leopard seal encounter, titled "Face Off with a Deadly Predator" and narrated by the photographer of the images, Nat Geo contributor Paul Nicklen. The series of images (a few shown above), and accompanying story, was nothing short of incredible, and the youtube clip immediately went viral. I remember being captivated by the clip when I first saw it, viewing it multiple times in a row, so each of those jaw-dropping images came back in a rush as I listened to WNYC's Radio Lab this past weekend - as part of a show dedicated to scientific evidence of animal thinking, Nicklen was interviewed to elaborate on his profound encounter with the leopard seal, one of the most formidable carnivores in the ocean.
If you haven't already seen the youtube clip - check that out, pronto... it's amazing - and for those that have seen it, you may want to add another layer of insight into the story by listening to an archived clip from Radio Lab's "Animal Minds" show (apparently it first aired in early April, but as usual, I'm a little late to the game). Nicklen recounts a lot of his story verbatim, just as he narrated the youtube clip, but he goes into much more detail as he discusses his emotional reaction to the events that unfolded, and the genuine affection he developed for that uniquely nurturing seal with seemingly endless surprises up her speckled sleeve. It's an epic encounter, and thanks to Nicklen's skill and the power of story-telling, the rest of us can vicariously experience it in full color.
By happy coincidence, I too had the pleasure of studying leopard seals for National Geographic - I never made it to the Antarctic, but using as much photo reference as I could find (including some of Nicklen's earlier work) I was able to generate the following illustration, as part of a coloring book series for the kids activity section of the Nat Geo website (one of the themes was "Crittercam" marine animals, hence the small device stuck atop the bottom seal's back).