Seals tend to have a cute and cuddly image, but leopard seals don’t quite fit the profile. Named for their spotted, leopard-like coats, they also share another characteristic with their namesake land mammal: they are fierce predators.
Leopard seals are the most formidable hunters of all the seals. A large part of their diet is made up of krill, but they also use their powerful jaws and long teeth to hunt fish, squid, seabirds and penguins. They are the only seal species known to prey on other seals, hunting the pups of other Antarctic seals including crabeaters and Weddells. And while attacks on humans are rare, there are recorded encounters in which leopard seals have stalked and attacked Antarctic explorers.
Leopard seals are typically found around Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands, although some have been spotted as far north as the coasts of New Zealand and Australia. They are solitary creatures, normally living and hunting alone, and rarely seen with more than one or two other seals. The only exception to this is during breeding season, and when mothers are caring for their newborn pups.
There is still much to learn about leopard seals, due to the fact that they spend much of their time underwater during the austral spring and summer, when visual research is typically carried out. During this time, the seals submerge and hang upside down to perform their impressive underwater vocalizations. These vocalizations range from bird-like trills to low moans, which are believed to serve as territorial warnings and to attract potential mates. Since they have only one known natural predator—the killer whale—leopard seals are relatively safe during their long periods of underwater singing. Much of what we do know about leopard seal behavior comes from studies carried out using hydrophones, or underwater microphones, which allow researchers to study the seals even when they’re below the surface.
Other Antarctica Wildlife
Adélie Penguin / Chinstrap Penguin / Emperor Penguin / Gentoo Penguin / Macaroni Penguin / Crabeater Seal / Elephant Seal / Fur Seal / Ross Seal / Weddell Seal / Blue Whale / Fin Whale / Humpback Whale