Weddell seal

Weddell_Seal_(js)1

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Weddell seals are some of the southern-most living mammals in the world. This probably gives you a good idea of where they live, but the specifics will come later. The adults, like the one shown above, are dark gray or black on top with lighter speckles. The cream and light gray speckles are on the animal’s neck, sides, and abdomen. While most of the Weddell seals are this color, some of them are a lighter color everywhere, and some are even mostly brown. There is not much difference between the markings on males and females other than what is also seen in the same gender. These seals have very short front flippers which are not easy to see in the above picture. They may seem useless, but the large black claws on the end of them are useful for gripping the ice. Weddell seals are considered true seals because they have no outer ear. This makes their body more streamlined and helps them be faster underwater.

Size

These seals are very different from most other seals because the females are actually larger than the males. For most other seals the males are much larger than the females, up to ten times their size! Females may be up to eleven feet (3.3 m) long, and males are “only” about nine and a half feet (2.9 m) long. You probably expect an animal this large to weigh a lot, and the Weddell seal does not disappoint. The adults range from 880 to 1,320 pounds (400-600 kg). The females are heavier than the males, but I do not have specific weight for males and females. According to National Geographic, the average weight for the adults is about 1,200 pounds (544 kg).

Diet and hunting

Weddell seals feed mainly on a wide variety of fish, but they will also eat squid, octopus, crustaceans, and even penguins. Because these seals are large, they are not deterred by large fish. They have been seen attacking fish that weigh up to 120 pounds (54 kg)! Weddell seals have developed an interesting hunting method. Sometimes when fish are hiding in cracks in the ice, the seal will blow air into the cracks. This scares the fish out, and they swim right into the waiting seal’s mouth. During a dive to hunt for food, Weddell seals can stay under water for up to 80 minutes at a times, and they sometimes dive as deep as 2,000 feet (600 m) below the surface! Sometimes they will dive beneath the ice and use their sharp teeth to create breathing holes in the ice above them. Weddell seals have been known to swim up to three miles (5 km) away from these holes while hunting!

Habitat and range

Weddell seals live mostly in the oceans around Antarctica. The white in the map below is Antarctica, and the pink is the range of this seal. There is some debate as to whether these animals are migratory or not. There are reports of individuals in the very southern portion of South America (at about 10 o’clock in the map below). It is unknown if the Weddell seals seen there were migrating there or had just wandered a long way.

WeddellRange_1

Weddell seals generally spend their time near the shore. When they venture farther away from the Antarctic mainland, they will rest on ice pieces and islands.

Status and threats

These seals are classified as least Concern on the IUCN Redlist. There are a few natural predators of the Weddell seal, but not many due to their size. Killer whales and leopard seals are the only two natural threats that I could find that these animals face. Humans do not hunt Weddell seals, so that is one plus for these animals, but we do fish for krill and antarctic fish. This is bad for these seals because they eat the animals we fish for. Some diseases also pose a minor threat to the population of this seal, and Antarctic tourism disturbs them.

Reproduction

Weddell seals usually mate while in the water. Mating season occurs from mid-November to December. The females seals are pregnant for 9-10 months before they give birth to a single pup. This normally occurs in September or October. Individuals that live farther south normally give birth later.  These seals normally give birth while on the ice, making the pups go from warm to cold very fast. This may seem odd, but given the Weddell seal’s range, it actually isn’t that surprising. Newborns weigh about 66 pounds (20 kg) and have light gray fur. Within three or four weeks, their coat turns to a darker gray, like the seal pictured above has. The pups are weaned by the time they are six to seven weeks old, and they are then completely on their own. Females normally mate for the first time at three years of age; the males usually mate first at six to eight years old. Adult Weddell seals have been known to reach their mid twenties with some surviving the storms.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

mystery animal

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Weddell seal – Jerzystrzelecki
  • Weddell seal range – Wldland
  • Mystery animal – Noel Reynolds

One Response

  1. Grandpa M
    Grandpa M at |

    Stellar blue jay

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