I woke up to a message from a brilliant photographer friend of mine in Israel, Roie Galitz. One of the toughest and most demanding images I have ever created was selected out of 15,000 images submitted from around the globe to be awarded 1st Place by the International Photography Association (IPA).

My gratitude goes out to the Judges, Roie and the many people that follow my work and participate in the exciting expeditions with BigAnimals.com!

Some have asked how I was able to get this award-winning picture of the Leopard Seal and the Penguin.

Are you curious and interested enough to learn more about how an image like this is created?

john-gentoo-penguin3337During this Leopard Seal Antartica expedition, we spent three days of searching to find the perfect location where the predation takes place along the Antarctica peninsula…then one more day to study the chain of events taking place in front of our eyes before I felt it would be ok to be in the water to witness this predation…

perfect-bay-waiting-for-action_5406At last, we were patiently seated on the edge of this beautiful natural pool anticipating and imagining what it was going to be like to witness this up close underwater. We sat with unnatural stillness, focusing on the surroundings, keenly aware of every sound and movement around us. This continued for a few hours until the low tide finally arrived, exposing the rocks around the pool, it was time and we were ready.

penguin-on-the-water-line_4516Above the natural pool was a big colony of Gentoo penguins, adult and young ones, only during low tide do the penguins start to go to the water level and then the young ones go into the water while the adult all remain on the shoulder of the pool.

Our hearts were pounding with excitement as we watched a young chick from the colony bravely start to make his way down to the water. First moving with confidence and then slowing down with caution as it approached and entered the water. The rest of the penguins soon started to follow his lead, looking around with sidelong glances and excitement as they followed him down to the water.

It was finally time, after careful planning, thousands of miles traveling, days of searching and countless hours of studying the behaviors we were about to experience this raw and natural predation close enough to photograph it.

Swimming on his underbelly with incredible agility, the leopard seal quickly made his way to the center of the pool. Very calmly he silently raises his head slowly out of the water. For a brief second as his head emerges, he takes in everything in his surrounding, making himself ready and planning his attack.

As his head gently sinks back underwater, only its metallic gray back could be seen above water like the exposed rocks around. The tide keeps lowering and more chicks get confident and make their way down to play in the water, unaware of the danger that exists just below the surface.

We now are starting to feel a heightened sense of readiness, mentally focusing on executing our goal to safely capture this incredible interaction. Without hurrying or rushing to make things happen quicker, we ready ourselves.

Totally by surprise the seal rapidly and unexpectedly darts to the left with all of his power and speed. There was no escaping him as his huge powerful jaws opened like a steel trap and reached out and grabbed the penguin by his legs as all the other young penguins frantically scrambled to safety.

gentoo-young-_happy_-feet_3375The seal now almost totally exposed by the shallow water was moving on its belly in undulating movement with the penguin dangling helplessly between its teeth. When the Leopard reaches the edge it went under and we waited on the edge too, camera, fins, mask, and snorkel in our hands…in a minute or less the penguin shoots out of the water and was “flying” sort of speak back towards the rock and the safety it knew it could provide.

leopard-seal-giant-jaw-open_1158Before it could reach the rocks the seal unexpectedly comes shooting like a missile out of the water with an explosion of shocking speed towards the penguin, it again caught the same penguin amongst all others that were there. Now on its belly, the seal was confidently moving through the water again with his prey tightly held in his massive jaws.

Now it was our moment to capture the interaction, with great excitement and racing hearts we followed. As we slipped beneath the surface with anticipation we were honored to witness this game of catch and release happen two or three more times before it was suddenly all over. Please enjoy the images below that document the encounter.

First image is how the seal holds the penguin by its feet and first drowns it.

Second image is the one that was in the competition.

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Third image how the seal holds the penguin by its feet, with its canine teeth, to cut the skin…

l3

What follows is mother nature adaptation…the seal shakes the breathless penguin violently from left to
right in and out of the water, this causes the skin to peel off and with it the feathers as seen in image 4…

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only then the Seal is ready to devour its prey.

View Leopard Seal Expedition