Researchers have tried to understand the recurrence of a very unlikely phenomenon: seals having sex with penguins. Especially strange since penguins are usually hunted and eaten by their bigger brethren.
The anomaly reports the BBC came to light six years, but at the time was scoffed off as an aberration until new recording of instances of seals having sex with penguins were noted in science journal Polar Biology.
Told zoologist Nico de Bruyn: ‘At first glimpse, we thought the seal was killing the penguin, But the incident, which lasted 45 minutes, couldn’t be mistaken for attempted murder in the end: Instead, the young adult male seal was attempting to mate with a penguin of unknown sex.’
The latest sighting of up to 4 incidents of seals having sex with penguins has led to researchers wondering if the seals are behaving in an act of aggression, confusion or misguided playfulness and why for that matter there has now been a resurgence of behavior once thought to simply be an anomaly?
Reiterated Bruyn: ‘Honestly, I did not expect that follow-up sightings of a similar nature to that 2006 one would ever be made again, and certainly not on multiple occasions.’
The latest sightings in each case document a seal giving chase, catching and mount a penguin, then attempt to mate with it several times. On one occasion, the assaulted penguin was killed and eaten after the incident — which on its own is a much more common interaction for the two species to have.
Interspecies mating isn’t totally uncommon, with some scientists estimating that about 10 percent of animals intermingle. But the vast majority of these cases involve animals that are very similar in genetic composition and appearance, and can produce hybrid offspring with each other. Sometimes these meetings are cases of mistaken identity, but interspecies mating and hybridization can also be used as an evolutionary tool in interspecies competition for survival.
But that notes the washingtonpost is not the case with seals and penguins: The penguins are clearly in distress, and it’s obviously unlikely for a seal to confuse a penguin for a potential breeding partner.
One theory posits that the behavior might have been acquired from watching each other.
With the realization that the birds are easy targets, seals may be looking to vent their sexual frustration caused by mating season hormone spikes. Another reason could be that females are hard to come by on certain beaches, leaving young male seals looking for other outlets.
In another part of the world, seals can actually end up being on the receiving end of these kinds of assaults: In 2011, researchers reported incidents of sea otters copulating with (and killing) baby harbor seals.