Sea Creature of the Week: The Leopard Seal

Apr 24 2012

Leopard Seal

In the frigid waters of Antarctica, there are few predators higher on the food chain than the Leopard Seal. Named for their spotted coat, these marine mammals resemble their jungle cat namesake not only in appearance but also in ferociousness.

Scientific Name: Hydrurga leptonyx.

Home: Leopard Seals primarily reside in Antarctica and sub-Artic waters. Though less common, Leopard Seals have also been spotted off the coasts of southern Australia, Tasmania, South Africa and New Zealand.

Physical Characteristics: Leopard Seals can weigh up to 900-1,300 lbs and grow to 12 feet in length. Females are typically slightly larger than their male counterparts.

Perhaps their most defining physical attribute, aside from their black-spotted coat, is the seal’s sharp teeth. The teeth, highlighted by the longer front teeth are sure to evoke fear in their prey and anyone else unlucky enough to find themselves in the water with one of these beasts.

Food: Leopard Seals tend to be the hunters, rather than the hunted. Orcas are the seals only know predator.

The seals primarily feed on penguins, but also have been know to eat smaller seals, fish, squid and shellfish. They hunt penguins by waiting beneath an ice shelf for an unsuspecting penguin to dive in, then use their quickness and agility to chase the penguin down.

Conservation Status: Unlike Fur Seals, Leopard Seals have not been commercially hunted for their coats. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has deemed these predators on the low-end of their ‘Conservation Status’ scale: least concern.

Fun Fact: Take a moment to watch this amazing video of an encounter National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen had with a Leopard Seal. Normally known for their aggressive instincts, Nicklen’s subject showed a more nurturing side, confusing Nicklen for a less-adept predator and attempting to help feed him penguins.

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