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Image: Leopard seals and penguins

A Leopard Seal Tried to Feed this Photographer a Penguin: Capturing a Moment of Kindness from an Apex Predator

What would you do if a sea creature nearly two and a half times your size, was staring you in the face, jaws wide, with nothing but a wetsuit and your camera between you and its teeth? 

When we see the stunning pictures of nature in the pages of National Geographic, or the awe-inspiring shots in our favorite nature documentaries we don’t often give much thought to the people–the stories–behind the lens. Those stories, as it turns out, can be moving, exhilarating, hilarious, but most of all, give us a greater appreciation for finding wonder in all of life’s moments–even the ones that scare us.

To start, I want to introduce you to the remarkable work of Paul Nicklen, National Geographic photographer and master communicator about the ice-bound wilderness of Antarctica. Paul has experienced truly remarkable things and taken unimaginably beautiful photographs. His instagram page is a wealth of this same beauty and wonder, a rabbit hole I could sink into for hours!

But we’re not here today just to look at his remarkable images, we’re here to hear the story behind one of his most iconic images. A story that involves Paul, an earnest leopard seal, and a would-be penguin dinner.

Image: Leopard Seal
Source: ravas51 // Flickr

At first glance, you may be saying to yourself “Oh, so it’s really just a seal and some penguins, huh.” However, I would encourage you not to look closer, but instead, consider the person behind the camera–Paul Nicklen– and the story of how this moment might have unfolded. 

Spoiler alert… This 12-foot long leopard seal spent 3 days trying to feed him photographer a penguin! 

We’ll begin today’s Antarctic journey with one of the most extraordinary stories from Nicklen’s Antarctic experiences. This one never ceases to amaze me. In a delightful way, it forces us to question all we think we know about the emotional intentions of animals!

I have watched a lot of speakers tell their stories and I don’t know if I have ever seen someone speak more compellingly about their passions. Paul is so authentic that at one pivotal part of his story, he is almost moved to tears.

Combine that heartfelt zeal with the ridiculously surprising discoveries they made on their trip and you have a combination that is unbeatable.

See how you get a photo like the one we opened with today, brought to us by National Geographic!

Via: National Geographic 1

National Geographic is doing, supporting, and highlighting some truly amazing things in this world. Their content is brilliant, innovative, and leaves you in awe. Make sure to take some time out of your day to check them out. You won’t regret it!

Fascinating, huh!? While the images Paul shows us are absolutely breathtaking, I again urge you to consider how Paul felt during these shoots. Imagine yourself in the gelid waters of Antarctica, face-to-face with a leopard seal, and coming out feeling cared for by this apex predator.

This was the true wonder factor for me. The care this animal showed Paul is incredible, and the journey of fear to compassion Paul went through completely shattered my assumptions about these seals and about how involved photographers are in their work.

If there were ever a specific medicine for this world full of negative noise, it would be wonder. Wonder is always capable of at least two things: keeping a smile just around the corner, and expanding we think is possible, just like this video.

Fortunately, there’s much more to this story and Paul Nicklen has given a Nat Geo Live talk where he will fill us in on the backstory. Best of all, shares a few amazing discoveries with us that are fresh from his experiences.Get a comfortable chair and totally enjoy this one!

Via: National Geographic 2

Magical, huh?

That piece always leaves me surprisingly mute, even after the fourth watch.

There’s just so much wonder there: the science, beauty, the emotion!

When Paul tells the story of finding himself laying on the wet ice, dazed, back-to-back with a 600 pound (272 kg) leopard seal, and yet has compassion for how frightened the seal must be, I am transfixed.

When Paul tells of being moved to tears of gratitude in his tent the first night, with the teenage emperor penguins leaning against the tent, I tear up a little there, too.

When Paul mentions how his videographer, Goran Ehlme, inspired him to finally get into the water, and Paul is so humbled by his emotions that he tears up, I tear up too, every time.

I love that quote from Goran:

“We Must Solve This Seal. Of course, we are not finished. We must continue!”

Maybe that’s the attitude that we all need when we face a situation that demands we persevere.

Image: Leopard Seal as seen by Paul Nicklen
Source: AWeith // Wikimedia

For even more wonder and awe…

You can see more of Paul’s remarkable work at his website at PaulNicklen.com.  And if you feel a connection to Paul’s passion for conservation, please visit the website called SeaLegacy.

Paul and his partner Cristina Mittermeier, founded SeaLegacy to change the narrative around our world’s oceans and show the global community what is at stake, rally soldiers of support—and ignite real and lasting change. Watch the video on the page we are linking you to at Sea Legacy and you will learn about the work of many amazing people.

Thank you for stopping by the Goodness Exchange. We are here to point you to insightful and innovative content every day! We publish one carefully fact-checked article every other day – on anything under the sun – to demonstrate this is still an amazing world.

Paul Nicklen’s work surely qualifies!

So, here’s what to do next…

Go back to the homepage here at the Goodness Exchange and dive into a few articles you don’t think you’d be interested in and discover more awe and wonder there!

Stay curious, open and optimistic!

~ Dr. Lynda

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  1. National Geographic. “Face-To-Face with a Leopard Seal | Nat Geo Live.” YouTube, 28 Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmVWGvO8Yhk. Accessed 25 May 2022.
  2. National Geographic. “Paul Nicklen: Emperors of the Ice | Nat Geo Live.” YouTube, 21 Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr4d2FfivA4. Accessed 25 May 2022.
Image: Dr. Lynda

Lynda Ulrich


Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.

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