The list of known shark predators is not long, but it just grew by one: Researchers say that, much to their surprise, leopard seals make the cut. They found shark remains in the seals' scat, as well as physical evidence of shark confrontations on seals' bodies, the researchers write in Frontiers in Marine Science. And these were apparently not rare, random encounters in the waters off New Zealand. The evidence turned up frequently enough to suggest that sharks might "constitute a substantial, or important, part of the diet for some leopard seals in this region," per the study. As the Guardian reports, this marks the first time that leopard seals—which are relatively large by seal standards—have been shown to hunt and feed on sharks.
"We were blown away to find that sharks were on the menu," says lead researcher Krista van der Linde of leopardseals.org. Co-author Ingrid Visser says she has studied orcas for decades and has seen them eat sharks. "To know there is another marine mammal also munching on sharks, well, that has implications for the whole food web and our understanding of how it all is interlinked," she says, per stuff.co.nz. The evidence of the confrontation with sharks—one seal's face showed at least 14 shark-related wounds—was important because it suggests that the seals weren't simply scavenging on shark remains, say the researchers. It's "next-level incredible," says van der Linde. (Read more discoveries stories.)