Leopard Seals

(Hydrurga Leptonyx)

Description

Appearance: Leopard Seals are easily identified, designed for speed, these animals have a sleek, streamlined body with long front flippers. It has a long neck and a large head which ends in a pointed snout. The leopard seal can open its jaw widely revealing particularly long canines with unusual, pointed molars. Like the crabeater seal, the leopards seals unusually shaped teeth enable it to strain krill from the water.

Size: Cows (female seals) are slightly larger than the bulls (male seals). Males are approximately 3.0m in length and weigh around 320kg while females range from 3 - 3.5m in length and weigh 370kg. However, large females have been known to reach lengths in excess of 3.5m and weigh a massive 500kg.

Life Span: Female leopard seals may live up to 26 years while males live slightly less longer.

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Population & Location

Population: The population is quite large with an estimated 222 000 seals.

Location: Leopard seals are solitary animals and are found at Antarctica, inhabiting the surrounding pack-ice. They are thought to be perhaps the greatest wanderers of all Antarctic seals with sightings in Tasmania and Heron Island. They may be seen all year round on some subantarctic islands including Australian territory of Heron Island. During the winter months the young leopard seals from Antarctica visit Macquarie Island.

Diet

Leopard seals eat almost anything including: penguins, fish, squid, crustaceans and other seals. Surprisingly, about half the leopard seals diet is made up of krill.One leopard seal that was caught in Sydney had even eaten a fully grown platypus!

Eating Habits: Whilst hunting there are two strategies that the leopard seals most commonly use. Typically, the first one would be a normal chase and grab, however, penguins are mobile swimmers themselves and quite often out manoeuvre the seal. The second strategy is more successful, as instead of just chasing its prey the leopard seal will wait under the surface of the water and come up and attack once the penguins have started to jump into the water. Once the leopard seal has caught a penguin, no matter how, it will shake the penguin violently tearing flesh from the animal.

Emperor Penguins v Leopard Seal - Blue Planet - BBC Earth

Threats

Conservation Status: Common/Least Concern

The leopard seal only has one natural predator, the killer whale, although a sighting of a male elephant seal killing a leopard seal has once been reported. It is believed however to be a rare and uncommon occurrence.

Breeding

Due to the solitary lifestyle of these animals that live in the Antarctic pack ice, not much is know of their reproduction. Female leopard seal of at least six years can give birth to a single pup, which are born on the sea ice from November to December, after giving birth they return to the ocean to feed. The pup may way over 30kg.
Leopard Seal Call

Adaptations

The leopard seal has multiple adaptations with some of the most significant including its front flippers which allow it to move across the ice quicker than other seals and its whiskers which it can bring forward which can determine the slightest currents and to feel for fish in the dark or murky waters. This allows the seal to find food in Winter even when there is a very limited amount of sunlight. Other adaptations include its streamlined body for swimming, its thick coat made up of two layers, a very warm, fine layer closest to the seals body and a second with much longer hair forming an outer waterproof layer, known as guard hair, helps keep the seal warm in the freezing waters of Antarctica.

Did You Know?

1. A leopard seal was found containing 73kg of penguin in its stomach.

2. The leopard seals are one of the few species of seal where the females are larger than the males.

3. The leopard seals swim so fast they can jump out of the water to get its prey on the edge of the ice.

4. Leopard seals have huge mouths.

5. Some leopard seals have been measured at 12 feet (approximately 3.6m)