20 Facts About Leopard Seals

Antarctica is the land of extremes. It’s cold, windy, and it’s really icy. But despite these harsh conditions, Leopard Seals love it there! You’re only here to read about the wee ferocious hunters though… so without me blubbering on, let’s learn 20 facts about Leopard Seals!

Fact 1: The Leopard Seal is the second largest species of seal in the Antarctic, after the Southern Elephant Seal.

  • The Leopard Seal’s complete name is, Hydrurga leptonyx, and they can also be referred to as the Sea Leopard.  

Fact 2: Leopard Seals feed on a wide range of prey including cephalopods, krill, birds, fish and other seals. 

  • The Leopard Seal’s closest relatives are the Ross Seals, Crabeater Seals, and the Weddell Seal. Together, the three seal species make up the tribe of Lobodontini seals.

Fact 3: According to their physical size they’re the third-largest seal in the world after the Elephant Seal, and the walrus. 

  • Female Leopard Seals are larger than males. Females often reach weights of 590 kilograms and grow up to a length of 3 meters.

Fact 4: A Leopard Seal’s body is long and slender, with a head that seems to be a bit too large for its narrow, serpent-like body. 

  • This specialized streamline body comes in handy when propelling through the water at speeds of up to 40 km/hour. 

Fact 5: Leopard Seals in general are solitary hunters that are rarely seen with more than one or two seals at a time. 

  • The exception is during mating season which is usually around November to March. During this period, Leopard Seals tend to come together.  

Fact 6: Leopard Seals love to sing underwater during the austral summer. 

  • During this time, the male seals produce loud calls for many hours each day. While singing the seal hangs upside down and rocks from side to side under the water. 

Fact 7: Like birds, Leopard Seals also have age-related differences in their calling patterns. 

  • Younger male seals have many different types of variable calls, but adult male seals have only a few, highly stylized calls. 

Fact 8: They are efficient and fearsome hunters. 

  • Armed with sharp, 1.5 inch canine teeth, and claws along the edges of their front fins, it’s no wonder that these cunning predators are feared hunters in the Antarctic waters. 

Fact 9: Leopard Seals are known to take fur seal pups. 

  • They also prey on King, Adélie, Rockhopper, Gentoo, Emperor and Chinstrap penguins, and less frequently, Weddell, Crabeater, Ross, and young Southern Elephant seals. 

Fact 10: Thomas Orde-Lees, a member of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition team, was attacked by a giant Leopard Seal that measured in at over 3.7 meters long.

  • He was saved when another member of the expedition, Frank Wild, shot the animal. 

Fact 11: In 1985, a Leopard Seal tried to drag Scottish explorer Gareth Woods off the ice and into the sea. 

  • Woods was saved by his companions, who repeatedly kicked the Leopard Seal away with their spiked boots. 

Fact 12: In 2003, biologist Kirsty Brown, of the British Antarctic Survey, became the first recorded human fatality from a Leopard Seal attack. 

  • She was attacked while snorkelling in Antarctica. 

Fact 13: Leopard Seals can flash you a killer smile. 

  • The ends of their mouths are permanently curled upward which creates an illusion of a menacing grin or a smile. But don’t let their cocky grin fool you, Leopard Seals can pack one heck of a bite. 

Fact 14: Female Leopard Seals reach sexual maturity between the ages of 3-7 years old. 

  • Males, on the other hand, take a little bit longer, typically reaching sexual maturity at 6 years old. 

Fact 15: National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen received daily food rations from a concerned female Leopard Seal. 

  • Nicklen spent days submerged in the Antarctic waters to catch an up-close glimpse of Leopard Seals in their natural habitat. A female Leopard Seal mistook him for a frail and smaller Leopard Seal, she tried to follow him and feed him dead penguins for days to make him feel better.  

Fact 16: They don’t exactly have table manners, and often play about with their food. 

  • To keep themselves entertained, a Leopard Seal will seek out penguins, or young seals, to play “cat and mouse” with before they eat them. As a penguin swims towards the shore, the seal will cut them off and chase them back towards the water. They’ll do this over and over again, until the penguin either successfully makes it back to the shore, or succumbs to exhaustion… and you can guess what happens next. 

Fact 17: Leopard Seals have a thick layer of fat known as blubber on their bodies. 

  • It’s how they keep themselves warm in the Antarctic’s bitterly cold waters. Blubber is a thick layer of vascularized adipose tissue under the skin of all cetaceans, pinnipeds, and sirenians. 

Fact 18: They’ve been known to attack inflatable boats, especially black pontoons. 

  • As a precaution, researchers equip their vessels with protective materials. 

Fact 19: Leopard Seals are native to the frigid waters of Antarctica.

  • But it’s possible to spot a few seals in other waters around the world. In fact, Leopard Seals have been spotted near South Africa, New Zealand, the south coast of Australia, and in South America. All of which are all in close proximity to the frozen seas.  

Fact 20: Young Leopard Seals migrate northwards in search of food from June to October. 

  • The adults, on the other hand, prefer to stay close to ice packs throughout the year. 


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