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Leopard Seal – The Most Ruthless Animal in Antarctica

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Leopard Seal - The Most Ruthless Animal in Antarctica

Pinnipeds are a group of animal families that are often called seals.

There is the Odobenidae family with a single extant representative walrus, the Otariidae family, or simply the eared seals, including sea lions and fur seals, and finally, the Phocidae family commonly called true seals.

In total, there are about 34 living species of seals, ranging from the smallest ringed seal which weighs up to 150 lbs (70kg) to the biggest southern elephant seal which can weigh up to 8800lb (4000kg).

However, one seal species has evolved to be one of the fiercest aquatic predators and is terrorizing the Arctic fauna for thousands of years.

This is Wild and domestic, and today we will tell you the story of the leopard seal, the most ruthless animal in Antarctica.

Leopard Seal 101

The leopard seal also referred to as the sea leopard, is a large seal species belonging to the true seal family.

It inhabits the Antarctic, or rather the surface of the Antarctic drift ice which floats in the Southern Ocean.

This species doesn’t live in inland Antarctica and travels with ice, which sometimes brings them as far as Australia or New Zealand!

As a result, the leopard seal is so-called “pagophillic”, which means “ice-loving”.

Body structure

Such animals have evolved to live on, near, and around the ice, making them not fully aquatic, but also not terrestrial.

This seal gets its name from its coat with black spots, which resembles another ruthless predator – the leopard.

This species on average grow to be between 7.9 – 11 feet (2.4 – 3.5 m) long and weigh between 440 – 1,320 lbs (200 – 600 kg).

It makes them as long as a gigantic seal species walrus, but much much lighter.

Talking about body composition and structure, the leopard seal is a true marvel of nature.

It has a long, slender torso with a relatively huge head and large eyes compared to other seal species.

The layer of blubber makes its body extremely hydrodynamic. It allows it to reach a maximum speed of 23 mph (37kph).

Combine this with enormous front flippers and flexible back flippers, and you get one of the most agile and dexterous marine mammals in existence.

In addition to that, it has a unique skull which is relatively long compared to other seal species.

It’s somewhat reminiscent of reptilian skulls and fits huge jaws, that can open at a 160-degree angle.

They are equipped with 1-inch (2.5 cm) long carnivorous front teeth capable of penetrating the thick skin of their prey, but we’re going to talk about leopard seal hunting intricacies down the line.

Now, let’s talk about its behavior and mating habits, which are somewhat unique compared to other seal species.

Behavior and Mating habits

Image source: Flickr

The leopard seal is a solitary creature, spending most of its life alone and only coming together with others during the breeding season.

Males are sexually active at ages 6-7 and mate with multiple females, who are sexually active at ages 3-7.

A female can only give birth to a single pup a year, with which it’s pregnant from the previous meeting season.

At birth, the pups weigh around 65 lbs (30 kg) and carry a white coat, which helps them camouflage with ice and snow to avoid dangers.

They are being nurtured by mothers for a month, after which they start shedding the white coat and start living on their own.

You might think that leopard seals are some of the worst fathers in the animal kingdom, as they mate with multiple females and don’t participate in their offspring’s lives.

However, they aren’t that bad compared to many insects and some mammals like bears, lions, and rodents, who are known to cannibalize their own offspring.

Leopard seals don’t do this type of thing, so give them a break about being open-minded in their sexual life.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t ruthless, a topic which we’re going to talk about soon.

But before that, let’s briefly mention some interesting facts regarding this unique seal species.

Some interesting facts

Image source: Rawpixel

First of all, their average life span in the wild is between 20 to 30 years, which is more than most other seals.

For example, elephant seal males live for just about 13 years, and females up to 20.

But there are seals with longer lifespans, like the walrus. It has a maximum lifespan of about 40 years.

Second, leopard seals aren’t endangered and there are anywhere from 220,000 to 440,000 individuals living around the Antarctic.

It’s because most animal species become endangered due to human activity which destroys their habitat.

And well, humans haven’t had much reason to destroy Antarctica yet, but who knows, maybe there are huge reserves of oil just waiting to be pumped.

Until then, leopard seals can live in peace, as their only natural predator is the orca, which we mentioned in our previous article that you should consider checking out after you finish reading this one.

Read also: Why Orca is called King of the ocean

The Most Ruthless Animal

The Leopard seal is some of the most efficient predators in the animal kingdom.

Leopard seal diet

The main part of its diet is krill, which constitutes almost half of its diet by calories, and this seal has even evolved grooved molars that can filter krill out of the water.

The other half of the diet consists primarily of fish and squid.

Additionally, the sea leopard is known to indulge in warm-blooded prey like other seal species including crabeaters, Weddell seals, and Antarctic fur seals.

Horrific Hunting methods

Finally, it also feasts on seabirds, especially penguins. They hunt by stalking their prey from below the ice or by ambush.

These seals wait for a penguin to jump into the water from an ice floor and then use their powerful front flippers to quickly close the distance.

Then, seals grab onto their prey with lethal canine teeth, and well…

Tear it apart by thrashing and shaking it against the surface of the water, or in some cases simply drowning it underwater. Just imagine the terror of such an end!

Sometimes leopard seals don’t even have the patience to wait for penguins to jump into the water.

In scenarios like that, these seals use their hydrodynamic bodies and huge front flippers to accelerate like a bullet and jump out of the water, snatching the prey from the surface of the floating ice.

This species of seals are known to prey on several penguin species that inhabit the Antarctic region, including the king, Adélie, rockhopper, gentoo, emperor, and chinstrap penguins.

Read also: Leopard Seals vs Sea Lion which is more powerful?

king penguins vs leopard seal

However, the king penguins are the only penguin species that have experienced another side of leopard seal ruthlessness.

To put it simply, scientists have recorded leopard seals mounting and attempting to mate with these seabirds.

Most of the time, leopard seals let their victims go after they have had their fun, but sometimes they decide to have a quick snack to replenish the energy they’ve spent pleasuring themselves and eat abused penguins.

Leopard seals are also recorded playing another cruel game with penguins.

In this one, they wait until a penguin attempts to get out of the water onto the ice floor, and then charges right at them, scaring the penguin away.

Then the seal retreats and waits until the penguin will attempt it again, and well, the seal cuts the penguin’s path away, essentially torturing the poor seabird and not allowing it to leave the water.

You know, maybe it’s a good thing that male leopard seals aren’t participating in raising up their pups.

Or maybe the lack of a father figure growing up is the reason for such cruel behavior exhibited by mature seals?

leopard seals vs humans

Jokes aside, leopard seals have also been recorded to attack humans, but such cases are extremely rare.

Mostly because there aren’t many humans just hanging around the Antarctic.

However, in 2003, one British marine biologist passed away after being attacked by one of these predators.

Interestingly, there’s also a recorded case where a female leopard seal started taking care of a human being.

That’s right, one photographer working for National Geographic encountered one female leopard seal face-to-face. Knowing just how aggressive this species is, the poor man probably started reciting prayers, but instead of being torn to pieces, he was presented with food.

That’s right, the female seal kept bringing him hunted penguins for the next few days.

Some speculate that she saw the photographer as a weak fellow seal that couldn’t feed itself, and instead of preying on it, she decided to nurture it as her own offspring!

Conclusion

Now you know what makes the leopard seal the most ruthless animal in Antarctica.

From perfectly evolved body structure and horrific hunting methods to the peculiar way of spending its pastime.

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