A group of scientists have described a rare event of fur seals trying to have sex with king penguins on an island located in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean. The details of the study were published last week in the journal Polar Biology. Researchers from the University of Pretoria said they have been witness to three different occurrences of Antarctic fur seals sexually coercing Penguins.
The researchers have also filmed 3 incidences of Antarctic fur seals sexually coercing Penguins. Study’s main authors, Dr. P.J. Nico De Bruyn has observed a similar case in 2006.The study describes all the four incidents following a similar pattern in which the Antarctic fur seals chased, captured and then mounted a king penguin.
The study then said, “The seal then attempts copulation several times with periods of rest in between.” the study said.
In 3 of the four instances, the Antarctica fur seals released the pigeons after forcing them on them. However one interaction was a particularly gory one when the seal killed the penguins after sex and ate parts of its neck and chest.
Researchers contend that these four incidents may be part of an “emerging” sexual behavior among the seals. The researchers hypothesize that two drivers may be prompting the “unusual behavior.”
The first hypothesis describes the act as an extreme case of reproductive interference (interspecies sex), caused by a lack of available female seals. The researchers describe it as a case of “heterospecific mating attempts,” which involve attempts to mate without any preceding courtship.
The researchers added, “With the continued growth of the (fur seal) population at Marion Island, the population might be reaching levels where there exists increasing competition for access to females.”
The second hypothesis is that fur seals may be getting acquainted with one another and this could be associated with some sort of reward. It has already been demonstrated that seals have an ability to learn.
The researchers wrote, “The group is considered highly adaptable to novel circumstances and display behavioral plasticity when faced with environmental pressures. Learning behavior is usually associated with a reward or threat – what would the value of this learned behavior be to the seal?”