Antarctic Mammals: Leopard Seal

Next up on our list of Antarctic Mammals is one of the top predators of the region: the Leopard Seal. Always one of the highlights of a trip, Leopard Seals can be quite curious. Having no natural predators, they can afford to be curious. I once had one almost climbing into my zodiac (time to pull back a little, of course) and another time, one tried to take a bite from the underside of one of the other zodiacs.

A Leopard Seal on an ice floe

Leopard Seals are large seals, with the females reaching up to almost 4 meters and 500kg’s. They have grey, often spotted fur and a large mouth. Leopard Seals on land look a bit reptilian, with a long, snakelike neck. In the water, this changes completely. Like with most seals, they are quite clumsy on land, but very agile in the water.

Leopard Seals can look a bit reptilian, with a long neck and broad shoulders.

Even though Leopard Seals are considered to be top predators, around 50% of their diet consists of Krill. For the other half, he is the fierce predator everybody thinks he is. They eat fish, penguins and even other (young) seals. During landings at penguin colonies, we regularly see them patrolling the shores, in the hope to catch an inattentive penguin. When they do, they try to flip the seal ‘inside out’, so they can more easily eat the meet from the bones.

Leopard Seal on an ice floe

The pattern of spots on the side of the face (and body) is individually different. This means that, with good pictures, individuals can be followed when you have enough pictures. Recently, two of my colleagues have, in cooperation with Happywhale.com, started a project of collecting as many Leopard Seal pictures as possible and catalogue them in order to get a good view on the movements of these fascinating animals. All my pictures are already in the database, but if you have any yourself, please go to the Happywhale website and upload them. An easy way to help science a bit further!

The movement of this mummified Leopard Seal are clear, it will always stay on James Ross Island in the Weddell Sea.

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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