Casey, the world's only leopard seal in human care, has been serenaded at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, by a saxophone-playing elephant keeper. The curious 180kg marine mammal blew bubbles as he hovered in front of the underwater viewing window where Steve Westnedge was belting out a tune. "Playing for a seal is pretty unusual," Westnedge said. "I've played for my dog and I have actually played for the elephants once or twice.
"The elephants don't really get in our face where as Casey, he seems to be coming around, he seems to be interested. As we do some more I guess we will know more what is going on, and hopefully he'll make some noise back." The elephant keeper took time out from his herd to woo seven-year-old Casey, who was rescued in 2005 when he was found severely emaciated near Sydney. Since then he's been helping with the zoo's research into leopard seals, which are renowned for responding to audible stimulation.
Keepers are providing Casey with a variety of sounds to see how he responds and to provide him with stimulation. "The environment that he would be in in Antarctica would be constantly changing," said Marine Mammals supervisor Ryan Tate. "It would be nice to see him sing back, it might happen with the breeding season." Leopard seals often sing to attract mates and possibly to establish territories. Mr Tate says Casey was attracted to not only the jazz jam but also the saxophone itself.
"His body language was really curious. He was sort of snaking backwards and forwards and really trying to suss out what Steve was doing. It was really new and novel to him. He's probably trying to figure out what the noises are and trying to interpret what it means: whether it's a threat, invitation, is he trying to play with him? And the fact that Casey stayed with him the whole time really indicated to us that he was interested and a positive experience." The research is being carried out in conjunction with the Australian Marine Mammal Research Centre (AMMRC) based at Taronga Zoo.