Falkiands Inquest for British Scientist

The inquest of British Antarctic Scientist Kirsty Brown, who was killed during a Leopard seal attack at Rothera in July 2003, took place in the Falkland Islands during November.

A verdict of accidental death caused by drowning and Leopard seal attack was recorded. Kirsty had been snorkelling with another scientist in South Cove when she was pulled under the water by the seal. A boat was launched and the seal was seen with Kirsty's head in its mouth, apparently playing.

Kirsty was retrieved about 300 m from the shore but despite repeated resuscitation attempts by colleagues and the base doctor, Jane Nash, she could not be revived.

Her dive computer later showed that she had been held under water for around six minutes at a depth of up to 70 m.

Home Office Pathologist, Professor Guy Ruttie, described in his report that there were 45 bite marks and bruises resulting from the attack, concentrated mostly around her head. He also described how he had borrowed a Leopard seal skull from the Museum to help him identify the bite marks.

A report was read from seal expert Professor Ian Boyd from St. Andrews University. He said the Leopard Seal may have mistaken Kirsty for a Fur seal, or may have been frightened by her presence and made a defensive attack. He said Leopard seal attacks on humans were virtually unheard of.

He seemed to be unaware of two well documented earlier attacks. Gareth Wood in his book South Pole: 900 miles on foot described a frightening attack on him by a Leopard seal when he approached an open crack during a return across sea ice from Cape Royds to Cape Evans in 1986.

The Leopard seal erupted unexpectedly through the thin ice near the crack to grasp his leg, only releasing its grip after being kicked on the head 15-20 times by the cramponed feet of Gareth's companions. The seal submerged, only to erupt out again, this time onto the ice surface to grasp the injured man's plastic boot. Once more the seal was bested by the sharp spikes of repeated crampon blows. Wood suffered deep puncture wounds at the front and back of his leg near the knee Wood also recounts an earlier attack on a member of Shackleton's Endurance party in 1916.

While Thomas Orde-Lees was skiing across the sea ice, a Leopard seal erupted out of the water and chased after him. The seal appeared to give up and returned to the water, only to erupted out again on the opposite side of the floe after following OrdeLees's shadow under the ice.

Orde-Lees's screams brought help, and when the animal gave chase once more, Frank Wild ran up with his rifle and the seal turned to attack him instead. Wild dropped to his knee and fired, killing the seal only 10 m away. It took two dog teams to drag the carcass back to camp.

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