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Monday, January 5, 2015

The Leopard vs. the Lion

Who knew that one of the most spectacular local wildlife photos of 2015 would appear so early in the year?

Jeff and Alice were observing and photographing wildlife along the shoreline of Bodega Harbor on 3 January.  They were in the right place at the right time, and Jeff had the skills to capture this amazing image: 

That's an adult male California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) catching a Leopard Shark (Triakus semifasciatus).
The lighting really highlights the Leopard Shark's beautiful patterning.  And you can tell from the splashing and commotion in the water that this was a dramatic moment.  Alice mentioned that there was quite a bit of thrashing and that the sea lion would sometimes toss the shark into the air!

Here's another image, showing the middle and tail end of the shark (below).  The shark's species name, "semifasciata," means "half-banded," and I think you can see why in this picture:

The next image is probably the best at helping you visualize the thrashing that was going on.  I wasn't sure how often sea lions ate Leopard Sharks, so I did a quick Internet search.  Several people have commented (and posted pictures or video) about seeing similar behavior in San Francisco Bay and in San Diego.  However, Jeff's pictures are much better.  Way to go, Jeff, for representing Bodega Bay and documenting a fascinating predator-prey interaction!

Does seeing these pictures make you wonder what happens next?  How do the sea lions consume the sharks?  Do they tear smaller pieces from them?  And where do sharks rank within the diet of a sea lion?  Are sharks preferred, or do sea lions just capture them when other prey aren't available?  Can sharks use submerged vegetation (e.g., eelgrass beds) to hide from sea lions?  Can they sense a sea lion coming?  Does the wonderful patterning of a Leopard Shark sometimes help to camouflage it from a sea lion?

P.S.  Many thanks to Jeff and Alice for sharing this story and images.


Fixed Carbon said...

Down the hatch!

Unknown said...

I had heard there were sharks in Bodega Bay but I've never seen any. Certainly nothing like this. Wow!
Go Mammals!

John W. Wall said...

That is very cool, and speaking of leopard sharks, check out this phone video from a week or so ago https://www.flickr.com/photos/riffle_nature_photos/15569249074/in/pool-1527617@N25

Jim Naugle said...

I was there as well. The sea lion killed several sharks while we watched. One made it to shore. I picked it up and found the seal had eaten its internal organs and left the rest for the birds. What a photo op. I have many amazing photos as well. How do I load them to share.

Jackie Sones said...

Hi, Jim!

I'd love to see and post some of your photos. If you'd like to share a few, you can e-mail them to me at naturalhistoryphotos(@)gmail.com. Then I can upload them to the Natural History of Bodega Head blog. Thanks for thinking of it!


L. Broderick. WestCountyHawkWatch said...

wow! great work! love it.