This romance was destined for disaster from the start:
On a rocky beach, a sleek young male Antarctic fur seal was trying to mate with a king penguin.
The fur seals normally hunt penguins and eat them … Mr. Scott, a wildlife researcher, realized that the seal “was trying to court the penguin as if it were a female seal.”
When that failed, he “tore the bird to shreds and ate it.”
On the one hand: aw, poor birdie! On the other hand, LOL.
According to The New York Times, this is called “misdirected mating” and it’s not just a problem for seals. Sea otters sometimes go for seal pups. Bottlenose dolphins sometimes go for small, defenseless spotted dolphins. The Times says that all sorts of critters — “insects, spiders, worms, frogs, birds and fish” — also have these sort of confusions, although most of the examples I could find were in the genre of wasp-on-wasp, butterfly-on-butterfly, or mite-on-mite. Some of the mistakes have to do with gender; garter snakes, for instance, do some kinky stuff with gender roles.
It’s hard to know how freaky animal sex gets, though, because some scientists are protective of their research subjects.
Indeed, a few scientists declined interview requests, partly from concerns that animals that engage in misdirected mating would wrongly be perceived as sexual freaks.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little seal fetish or unorthodox sexual behavior. But, yeah, that basically is what we’re thinking.
In Nature, Fatal Attractions Can Be Part of Life, New York Times.