Antarctic Mammals: Weddell Seal

The next seal species that we regularly see on our Antarctica trips is the Weddell Seal. A bit less common as the Crabeater, but still a common sight. Usually alone, or with just one or two others on an ice floe or on land. That is actually a major difference between Arctic and Antarctic seals. Arctic seals never haul out on land (except for the Walrus) and will always stick to the edge of the ice floe or their breathing hole in order to have a quick escape to the sea where they are safe from predation by Polar Bears. In Antarctica, there are no land predators and the danger will come from the water (Leopard Seals or Orcas). Hence it’s a lot safer to make a bit of extra effort and move away from the shore line or floe edge.

A Weddell Seal

Weddell Seals are with a length of up to 3 meters slightly larger as Crabeaters and also a bit heavier. They have a different head profile and have a more mottled appearance. They feed mainly on fish, but also feed on krill (like everything in Antarctica it seams) and can occasionally even grab Chinstrap Penguins. They can dive up to 750m deep and can stay for 75 minutes under water, though they typically stay under for 15-20 minutes where they can reach depths of 50-500m.

Weddell Seal on an ice floe

Weddell Seals are the southernmost breeding species of seal in the world and can stay in the ice year round. In winter they can migrate north with the ice, but also stay in their southern quarters using cracks in the ice to get access to the water. If these cracks are not available, they might even use their own teeth to keep breathing holes open (wearing down their teeth quickly, of course). Weddell Seals pup in September/October, at the beginning of the Antarctic summer so they can make the best of the abundance of food in that period.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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