The leopard seal is a large aquatic mammal living in and around Antarctica. These animals get their name because they have black splotches that look like those of leopards. The individual shown above does not display these splotches as prominently as some others do. Leopard seals are one of the most formidable predatory seals and are the only seals that feed on warm-blooded animals (mammals and birds). Although they are considered highly aggressive, they have only rarely attacked humans. Sometimes people diving with leopard seals will get “presents” of penguins from a leopard seal. Sadly this is not always the case, and in 2003, a researcher was attacked and killed by a leopard seal. This is thought to be the first and only death by a leopard seal. One reason people may think leopard seals to be dangerous is that they have one inch (2.5 cm) long canines! The map below shows the range of the leopard seal in blue around Antarctica (the gray part in the middle). The other gray bumps around the outside are Africa at the top, Australia and New Zealand at the bottom right, and south America at the left. These bumps are just the Southern tips of the continents. Click here to see a video of these animals.
Leopard seals are the second largest seals in the world (first is the elephant seal) and can be over twice as long as an adult human is tall! More specifically they can grow up to 12.5 feet (3.8 m) long and weigh up to 1,300 pounds (591 kg)! As with almost all animals I report on, these are the maximums, and most individuals are smaller. For this species of seal, the females are generally larger than the males.
As I mentioned earlier, leopard seals are the only seals to eat mammals or birds, but these are not the only prey they eat. As with other seals, these animals also eat fish, squid, octopus, and krill. Krill, in fact, make up around fifty percent of the leopard seal’s diet! The birds they eat are normally penguins, and most mammal prey consists of smaller seals. In order to catch prey that spends its time on land, the leopard seal will sometimes jump up through thin ice right under its next meal. This gives the unsuspecting prey almost no time to get away. If the ice is too thick for this, the leopard seal can jump onto the ice from the water.While it is easier for the prey to get away from than the previous method is, there is still almost no time to react. In order to catch completely aquatic animals, they will dive down. Theses dives can last for up to ten minutes, but the average one lasts only three minutes.
Status and threats
The IUCN redlist classifies leopard seals as “least concern.” There are approximately 222,000 leopard seals in the wild, and only a few natural predators. The main predator of these animals is the killer whale, although a sighting has been reported of an elephant seal attacking and killing a leopard seal while on land. This may have been the result of a territorial dispute, and probably the leopard seal was not attacked to eat. Whatever the reason for this alleged attack was, such occurrences are assumed to be rare. The commercial fishing of krill, the main food of leopard seals, is also a threat that may cause problems for these animals in the future.
Mating and young
Mating season starts in December and ends in early January. Females first mate at around the age of four, but the males wait a little later. Females do no become pregnant until about two month after mating. After a nine month gestation period (same length as a human pregnancy), a single pup is born. For the first four weeks following birth, the female is completely responsible for her pup, but after this time the young leopard seals are on their own. Not long after the pup has been weaned, the females start mating again. There are only a few records of the lifespan of these animals. Some reports indicate that these animals can live for up to thirty years, while the average lifespan is reported to be twenty-six years.
Don’t forget to scroll down and leave your guess about what the next animal is!
- Animals of the world. Tom Jackson, ISBN: 978-1780191089
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Leopard seal – Papa Lima Whiskey
- Leopard seal range map – Mirko Thiessen
- Mystery animal – Andreas Trepte