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leopard seal Image: flickr
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Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    leptonyx
    Genus
    Hydrurga
    Family
    Phocidae
    Suborder
    Pinnipedia
    Order
    Carnivora
    Class
    Mammalia
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia

The Leopard Seal, Hydrurga leptonyx is a member of the 'true seal' group, whose locomotion on land is best described as wriggling - a series of muscular body ripples with some assistance from the front flipper

Identification

The Leopard Seal's long body is dark grey to silver with darker grey flippers and spotting on the shoulders, throat and sides. The most imposing feature is its massive head, long snout and gaping jaws, giving the animal an overall reptilian appearance. The common name refers to the body markings but could equally describe its behaviour.

Distribution

Leopard Seals are a strictly Southern Hemisphere species with a circumpolar distribution. They inhabit the pack ice surrounding Antarctica and are known to frequent the larger subantarctic islands such as Macquarie, Heard and the Falklands. Occasionally individuals, usually young inexperienced animals will stray as far north as the Sydney beaches.



Feeding and diet

Along with the Killer Whale, the Leopard Seal is considered the top predator of the Antarctic seas. This lone hunter employs a number of different strategies, including ambush to catch its favoured prey item, penguins. Leopard Seals are powerful swimmers easily able to match the speed underwater of a variety of other prey such as fish, squid and even other seals.

Life history cycle

The largely solitary nature of the Leopard Seal and its chosen harsh environment make information on its reproductive biology difficult to gather. Mating occurs in the summer months of December and early January with females giving birth on the ice sometime late in the latter half of that year. Given the nature of the Antarctic environment it is likely that the period from birth to weaning is relatively short.

Conversation status

Their solitary existence have made the Leopard Seal's population numbers difficult to estimate however it is not a species that has ever been threatened by hunting pressure.

References

  • Bryden, M., Marsh, H. and Shaughnessy, P. 1998. Dugongs, Whales, Dolphins and Seals. A guide to the sea mammals of Australasia. Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, Australia.
  • King, J.E.1983. Seals of the World. University of Queensland Press. St Lucia, Australia.
  • Reeves, R. R., Stewart, B. S., Clapham, P. J. and Powell, J. A. 2002. National Audubon Society Guide to Marine Mammals of the World. Chanticleer Press, Inc New York, USA.