Photographing Leopard Seals

What type of photographs are helpful to researchers?

In order to catalogue individual animals we need to ensure we have as many angles as possible of each leopard seal which is photographed. The minimum requirements to identify an individual leopard seal is photographs of the left and right sides of the face and body, and also its underside of its belly.

The minimum 5 angles researchers need to add an individual leopard seal into a catalogue

How can I take great images?

We understand that people want to have photographs of leopard seals.  However, we can’t stress enough that no photograph is worth harassing or disturbing any animal for.

Therefore, we hope the simple guidelines below will mitigate any issues and help you to capture great images.  We also hope that they will not only provide you with photographs you can cherish, but if you submit your images to LeopardSeals.org, they will also help towards a better understanding and therefore protection of these amazing apex predators.  Please see the ‘Report a Leopard Seal’ page for details, including a release form.

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

Guidelines for photographing leopard seals

Be patient. If you sit quietly and wait, a leopard seal will typically lift its head to survey its surroundings and at that point it may also yawn or roll around and stretch, showing its spectacularly large fore-flippers. The photographs collected by LeopardSeal.org Team Members are the result of, literally, 100’s of hours of watching leopard seals.

A leopard seal stretches its flippers whilst resting.

Use a zoom lens (or zoom on your phone).  Remember, you should not approach closer than 20 m. Using a ‘long lens’ with a good zoom will allow to get photographs that appear closer than you are. If you have the option to set your camera to ‘RAW’, these types of images are higher resolution and you can then crop in the image and then convert to .jpg for easy viewing and sharing.  Below are some examples of photographs taken with a 200 mm zoom lens, set on RAW and subsequently cropped and converted to jpg.  If using your phone, zoom in to the maximum amount.  Some phone cameras have a ‘steady shot’ or ‘action mode’ making your image more stable.

Leopardseals.org takes no responsibility for the actions of members of the public photographing leopard seals.  It is each persons 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 Mammals Protection Act (MMPA).