Sea Creature of the Week: The Leopard Seal

April 24th, 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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Sea Creature of the week!

September 19th, 2011

Blue-Footed Booby

Scientific Name: Sula Nebouxil

Family: Sulidae

Home: You can find our avian friends hanging out on Central and South American Islands off the Pacific coast. There presence on Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands has contributed to their fame!

Physical Characteristics: The Blue-Footed Booby grows to be about 32 inches in length and up to 3.5 pounds. The wingspan of these birdies are about 5ft long which is rather large compared to their bodies. Generally, the female tends to be slightly larger than her male counterpart. Their forward-facing yellow eyes sit on either side of their bill giving them optimal binocular vision. Our little friends’ nostrils are permanently sealed shut which suits their diving lifestyle just fine. If you haven’t figured it already this specie of Booby has blue feet!

Food: These avian creatures are dependent on the ocean as a source of food. They fish for sardines, anchovies, mackerel, flying fish, squid, and offal. Upon spotting their prey, these marine birds will plunge into the ocean from up to 100 meters in the air. They can dive as deep as 25ft below the ocean’s surface and consume their food while still underwater!

Fun Facts:

• The name booby is derived from the spanish word “bobo” which translates as stupid, fool, or clown. Upon their arrival to the New World the European characterized our blue-footed friends this way based on their observation of the birds’ clumsy mannerisms on land (their least graceful habitat).

• Males attract their mates by flaunting their blue feet, the bluer the better. They will dance and strut around the female in an attempt to seal the deal!

• Consistent with their local culture the males will throw their heads in the air and whistle at attractive females flying by!

• Generally, the female booby’s feet are darker than the male!

Sea Creature of the Week!

September 12th, 2011

Longhorned Cowfish

Scientific Name: Lactoria Cornuta

Family: Ostraciidae

Home: These little guys are native to the (sub) tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region. They can be spotted hanging out in coral reefs up to 100 m under the ocean’s surface.

Physical Characteristic: This boxy sea creature gets its name from the two horns atop its head and the two below its tail. These horns are believed to have evolved in order to make the cowfish harder to swallow and therefore less attractive to predators. These festively plump sea friends come in green, light orange, or yellow with either white or blue spots. They grow to be about 18 inches in length.

Food: This fellow keeps his lovely boxlike figure by munching on algae, mollusks, small crustaceans, and small fish. The Big Eye Tuna and Albacore enjoy snacking on our little friend and are their biggest predators.

Fun Facts:

- When stressed the Longhorned Cowfish releases a harmful substance called ostracitoxin

- Our little ocean buddy is an extremely slow swimmer making him an easy target to catch. When caught he literally lets out a loud grunt.

- The cowfish’s horns break off quite often but fully grow back within a few months

Sea creature of the week!

August 29th, 2011

The Banded Piglet Squid

Scientific name: Helicocranchia pfefferi

Family: Cranchiidae

Home: This cutie can usually be found floating around 320ft or deeper below the ocean’s surface all across the world.

Physical characteristics: This orange-size creature rarely grows to be over 10cm in length. As a paralarvae (youngster)  it is mostly clear speckled with patches pigment-containing, light-reflecting cells known as  chromatorphores. This little guys bright eyes are a result of light-emiting organs called photophores. The little bunch of curls atop its head are actually its tentacles. As the piglet squid reaches sexual maturity it loses some of its tentacles and turns reddish in color.

Food: There is still a lot of mystery surrounding our little friend and researchers have not yet concluded what the little guy feeds on.

Fun Facts: Unlike most other squid, “piglet” is believed to swim upside-down!

The ammonium ions in the creatures body fluid enables it to remain buoyant!