By Crystal Chung @crystalkchung

A LITTLE penguin’s swim to shore turned into an epic life-or-death showdown after an encounter with a Southern Giant Petrel

Scroll down for the full story

Day out: Rockhopper penguin group arrive back at the beach after a day out fishing

The adult rockhopper penguin was returning from a daily fishing trip to feed his family when he strayed too close to the petrel - who have wingspans of up to 7ft and are known to prey on penguins.

The David and Goliath-style battle was captured by photographer Paul Mckenzie off the coast of the Falkland Islands.

Run for your life: A small group of penguins run to the safety of water as they spot a petrel

He said: “Astonishingly, the penguin approached the petrel and for the briefest of moments there was an almost comic, if thoroughly mismatched showdown.

“By then it was too late as the penguin realised its mistake as it attempted to dash for the safety of the water.”

The Southern Giant Petrel and Rockhopper come face to face in an almost comical standoff

The photographer spotted the predator while standing on some rocks, shooting the penguins as they swam back to shore.

"I noticed a lone Southern Giant Petrel, seemingly asleep, close to the shore line,” he said. "I continued to photograph nearby, keeping an eye on the petrel.

"After a while I observed that as each wave of penguins arrived back to the beach, the petrel would become alert, opening its eyes and focusing on the arriving birds.

“The penguins are instinctively wary of potential predators and despite the petrel’s best stealthy efforts to remain undetected, the penguins would spot the petrel and either give it a wide berth or dash back to sea.”

The large bird uses its strength to bring the penguin down as it attempts to stab it

For more than two hours, the petrel lay almost motionless until an unfortunate rockhopper crossed the hungry bird’s path.

The giant bird leapt into action, chasing its prey while blocking its entry to the sea - with the size difference between the two birds starkly visible.

Mckenzie said: “The petrel then repeatedly tried to stab the flailing penguin, which bravely fought back with its own beak.

With its 7 foot wingspan, the size difference between the two birds are very evident

“At this juncture, I feared the worst for the penguin and was preparing for a gory ending. But it managed to keep edging closer to the shoreline.

“On land, the penguins appear awkward and run in a scuttling manner using their front two flippers as legs, but in water they are in their element and their streamline bodies and powerful feet and flippers allow them to swim at rapid speeds.

Lucky Escape: With a final look back to the petrel, the penguin disappears under the waves

“Even as the penguin made it into the sea, the petrel appeared to hold the upper hand, striking continuously with its powerful beak.”

Just when the end seemed imminent, an incoming wave raised the water depth and with a powerful thrust of its legs, the penguin was able to break free and escape into deeper water.

“With a final look back to the petrel, the penguin disappeared under the waves. A lucky escape indeed,” Mckenzie added.