A feature named ‘The Hunter’s High Road.’ Check back to see an animal that represents the apex of predatory evolution. Carnivores come in a range of shapes and sizes, using a variety of tricks to catch their prey. Some are powerful, some are beautiful. All are deadly.
When thinking of seals a popular image is seeing them as small, cute and cuddly with bright, innocent eyes. Not every seal is docile, particularly in the case of the leopard seal. At a length of 2.4-3.5m and weighing from 440 to 1320lbs the animal is the second largest species in the Antarctic. They are apex predators, second only to killer whales in their dominance of Antarctica.
Leopard seals feed on a wide variety of prey, including squid, fish, king, rockhopper, gentoo, chinstrap and emperor penguins. They’ve also been known to attack other seals such as crabeaters and fur seals. The animal is strong and muscular, with a dark grey coat and a lighter underbelly. The black spots around its neck gives the seal its namesake.
When hunting, the seal prowls the water near chunks of ice, waiting for penguins to swim. They kill their prey by grabbing the feet, shaking it around and slamming the penguin violently against the ice until it’s dead. It was once thought leopard seals skinned their food but the reports have been proven false because they lack slicing teeth. Instead it flails prey around, tearing and ripping off chunks.
Leopard seals live in the cold waters of the Antarctic and are widely distributed through pack ice. They live solitary lives and are difficult to see in the wild because they spend long periods vocalising under water. Male seals produce loud calls for hours at a time, singing with bent backs and inflated necks. Female seals give birth to a single pup during the summer and protect it until it can defend itself.
The animal has been known to attack divers, though there’s a fine line between being curious and predatory behaviour. A famous example of a leopard seal interacting with a human was when National Geographic magazine photographer, Paul Nicklen captured photos of a seal bringing him penguins. Some of the birds were injured and others were dead and it could have been a possible attempt to show Nicklen how to hunt.
Leopard seals are bold, powerful and formidable creatures. There’s still a lot we don’t know about them but research is ongoing.