The leopard seal also referred to as the sea leopard, is the second largest species of seal in the Antarctic (after the southern elephant seal).
The leopard seal is named for its black-spotted coat. The pattern is similar to that of the famous big cat, though the seal’s coat is gray rather than golden in color.
Leopard seals can live up to 26 years in the wild.
They have long bodies from 2.5 to 3.5 meters (8 to 11.5 feet) and elongated heads.
Males are generally slightly smaller than females.
Their weight is from 200 to 600 kilograms (440 to 1,320 pounds).
Leopard seals can dive up to 15 minutes, however because their diet includes warm-blooded animals they are not deep diving seals.
It moves with surprising agility and speed, often along the edges of ice floes, patrolling for penguins and other pray.
Leopard seals eat penguins, fish, squid, sea birds, krill and smaller seals.
Antarctic krill compose about 45% of the leopard seal’s overall diet.
The leopard seal is native to the frozen waters of the Antarctic but is also found to the north in the warmer climates. Leopard seals are often seen near South America, South Africa, New Zealand and around the south coast of Australia often in the warmer waters that are on close proximity of the frozen seas which the leopard seal thrives.
The Leopard Seal is a solitary animal with the leopard seals only coming together in small groups when it is time to mate.
The female leopard seal digs herself a hole in the ice and the leopard seal pup is born after a gestation period of about 11 months, during the Antarctic summer time.
The baby seals weigh about 35 kilograms (77 pounds) and double in size within the first three months of life.
The female leopard seal weans and protects her leopard seal pup until the leopard seal pup is big enough and strong enough to be able to fend for itself.
The ends of the leopard seal’s mouth are permanently curled upward, creating the illusion of a smile or menacing grin.
When a leopard seal grows tired of eating, but still wants to be entertained, they’ll seek out penguins or young seals to play “cat and mouse” with. As a penguin swims towards to 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 shore, or succumb to exhaustion.
National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen dove head first into Antarctic waters to catch an up-close glimpse of leopard seals in their natural habitat. Instead of an angry sea-demon, he encountered a sympathetic female leopard seal that seemed to think that he was a smaller, less intelligent leopard seal. For days, the seal brought Nicklen penguins that ranged from mostly alive to completely dead. She was trying to feed him, or was at least trying to teach him how to hunt and feed on his own. Much to her dismay, Nicklen wasn’t too interested in what she had to offer, but walked away with an amazing experience and phenomenal photographs of an intriguing predator.
The leopard seal is a dominant predator in its environment and is rarely preyed upon by other animals with the exception of human hunters, the occasional desperate shark or killer whale .
It can be a dangerous endeavor to try to study these creatures, and in one case, leopard seals have been known to kill a human.
Owing to its widespread occurrence and large population size (estimated at 220,000 -400,000 individuals), the leopard seal is currently classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Furthermore, in common with all Antarctic seals, the leopard seal is protected by the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, which ensures that any future commercial harvests would be regulated.