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Photographing Leopard Seals

Please remember that no photograph is worth harassing or disturbing any animal for.
Always follow the safety guidelines when photographing leopard seals.

What type of photographs are useful to researchers?

Photos of leopard seals help us to identify and track individuals. In order to catalogue individual animals, we need to ensure we have as many angles as possible of each seal. This is so we can match unique pelage (fur) patterns on each individual.

The minimum requirements to identify an individual leopard seal are photographs of the left and right sides of the face and body, and also the underside of its belly. However, if it is not safe to photograph one of the angles don’t worry, it’s best not to disturb the seal.

How to take great photos safely?

We all enjoy viewing and photographing leopard seals and other wildlife and we understand wanting to get the perfect shot. However, it is so important to respect the wildlife being photographed and no photograph is worth harassing or disturbing any animal for. Below are some tips on how to get the best photos of leopard seals without disturbing them.

Don’t forget we would love to see any photos you take of leopard seals as they may help our research and could also help with education and advocacy.

Please email them to us at info@leopardseals.org or go to our ‘Report a Sighting’ page to learn more about how we use photos.

Please see the ‘Report a Leopard Seal‘ page for details, including a release form.

Female leopard seal lifts head and surveys her surroundings
A leopard seal lifts her head and stretches her fore flipper, after sleeping for nearly 2 hours.

1. Be Patient

When photographing leopard seals, it's important to take shots of specific angles for identification purposes
The minimum 5 angles researchers need to add an individual leopard seal into a catalogue

Leopard seals come to land to rest and so spend most of their time hauled out sleeping and not moving. If you sit quietly and wait, a resting leopard seal will periodically lift its head to survey its surroundings, yawn or roll around and stretch. These are great opportunities to get photographs.

If you wait long enough you may witness the seal waking up to return to the sea. The photographs taken by LeopardSeal.org team members are the result of, literally, hundreds of hours of watching leopard seals.

Photographing leopard seals can require patience
2 hours of leopard seal watching and waiting pays off

2. Use a zoom lens (or zoom on your phone)

Remember, you should not approach closer than 20 metres. Using a zoom on your phone or camera is the safest way to get a close up photograph of a leopard seal. 

Taking good photos requires a zoom lens
Leopardseals.org takes no responsibility for the actions of members of the public photographing leopard seals.  It is each person’s responsibility to ensure their own safety and well-being of the seal.  As a minimum follow these guidelines on approaching leopard seals and ALWAYS adhere to the Marine Mammal Protections Act (MMPA) 1978.


Click here to report your sighting so we can continue to track the behaviour and movements of leopard seals in New Zealand.