Tragic Mauling in Antarctica Being Investigated

Antarctica

The tragic leopard seal mauling endured by British scientist Kirsty Brown, which occurred during a research study in Antarctica, is now being investigated. The incident of the marine biologist’s untimely death, which took place summer of 2013, is said to the first leopard seal attack of its kind to have occurred on the icy continent.

Last year, Brown had joined the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and signed a 30-month contract with the Antarctic team to take part in the explorations of Antarctica. She was one of four group members based at the Rothera Research Station, which is a center for geosciences, atmospheric science and biology programs.

During an underwater survey, 28-year-old Brown, who was accompanied by another member of the team, John Withers, went on a snorkeling dive inside a bay nearby the research center. During the dive, the young woman was brutally attacked by a 13-foot long leopard seal. With powerful force, the seal had swept up and grabbed Brown in its enormous mouth, dragging her body down underneath the icy water.

Brown’s diving buddy, Withers, claimed to have seen his teammate rise up to the surface for just a moment before being pulled back underneath the water. When he look under the water, Withers reported seeing Brown being held under by a large flipper. Brown’s work colleagues, who were on shore during the time of the attack, were able to witness the incident after having heard her scream before the seal had grabbed her again to drag her below the surface.

Immediately, a rescue boat was launched into the water in an attempt to save her life. Withers, having boarded the rescue boat first, witnessed the seal holding Brown’s head in its mouth, seemingly playing with her. The head area of the seal was described to be larger than Brown’s entire upper body.

Once the seal had released Brown from its grip, she was nearly one mile away from the shore. When rescuers pulled her into the boat, their frantic struggle to resuscitate her proved to be unsuccessful, because within an hour’s time, the young woman was pronounced dead.

Doctors listed Brown’s cause of death was due to drowning. She suffered a total of 45 distinct injuries, most of them found to be on her head and face. Brown’s dive computer was able to reveal that the seal had held her under the water for around six minutes at depths of about 229 feet below the surface.

Now, the BAS has launched a full investigation into the tragic Antarctic mauling incident, which left people with tons of questions regarding the reason behind the attack. Spokeswoman for BAS, Linda Capper, said that BAS scientists have spent 30 years snorkeling and diving in Antarctica and an incident such as Brown’s has never been experienced or heard of before.

With humans slowly increasing their presence in Antarctica, scientists are becoming worried that people might be putting their lives at risk due to the raised possibility of coming into contact with leopard seals while in the water. Director of Scotland’s Sea Mammal Research Unit, Ian Boyd, Antarctica may be experiencing a process where animals are becoming a greater threat due to their increased exposure to humans.

Alongside killer whales, the leopard seal is ranked as a top predator in Antarctica. Their name came from their leopard-like spotted coats and their huge reptilian looking heads, which house their impressive jaws. Measuring 13 feet and above in length and weighing up to 990 pounds, these seals have fore-flippers that are powerful enough to propel them through the water at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.

The investigation regarding the tragic mauling of scientist Brown in Antarctica, which led to her subsequent death, is said to be the first leopard seal attack on a human ever recorded. As the number of workers in the area begin to increase, scientists fear more leopard seal attacks are bound to happen.

By Kameron Hadley

Sources:

Daily Mail: Horror in Antarctic as giant seal kills scientist

New Scientist: Inquiry into fatal leopard seal attack begins

eco photo explorers: The Inquest of Kirsty Brown

Photo Courtesy of Crouchy69’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

One Response to "Tragic Mauling in Antarctica Being Investigated"

  1. sarah krall   May 23, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    A researcher was attacked while working at the ice edge out from McMurdo Station many years ago. Her companions fortunately had crampons on and were able to hurt the seal enough to cause it to release its hold of her leg. Most scientists who work the area are very aware of these predators.

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