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Incredible photo shows sea eagle taking hapless penguin home for dinner

The little penguin may not have chosen to end up like this, but it got to experience something very few of its species ever taste: flight.

Unfortunately for the little one, its first flight took place upside-down and in the talons of a sea eagle. And while we don't know how this story ends, it's likely the poor penguin's first flight was its last.

This incredible photo was shot by photographer and bushwalker John Prats near Wattamolla in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney.

Mr Prats, 70, was happy for his picture, taken two years ago, to be published again - as long as he could urge people to get outdoors and among the natural world.

"To see sights like this, you've really got to get out and about," he said.

"You can't see it sitting in front of a computer.

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"If you can't go out on your own, join a walking group."

Over to John to tell the story of the picture: "We saw the white-bellied sea eagle flying south along the coast. We waited on the assumption that it was going to return and in the meantime had our morning tea. After about 30 minutes it did return and from the distance we could tell it had something in its claws.

"At first we thought it was a large fish - perhaps salmon. I started shooting as soon as it got reasonably close and it was only after I looked at the camera screen that I realised it was a penguin.

"There is a penguin colony [at] Five Islands nature reserve off Port Kembla and it must have come from there. I have been told by a former ranger at the park that in the past he had seen little penguins being taken by sea eagles along that coast."

Mr Prats had been a member of bushwalking and environmental group the National Parks Association (NPA) of NSW for many years.

When he first posted the photo on the NPA Facebook page it went viral - 53,000 views in days. Now it's off again.

"I know that some people would have been upset seeing this picture but that is the reality of nature - it can be majestic and brutal at the same time," Mr Prats said.

"I only hope that at least, even in a small way, it has helped bring awareness of our natural environment and the need to protect it."

Illawarra Mercury